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FRANCIS THOMPSON 
THE PRESTON-BORN POET 

(IFith Notes on some of his IVorks) 




FRANCIS THOMPSON IN 1893 



FRANCIS THOMPSON 
THE PRESTON-BORN 

POET By JOHN THOMSON 



LONDON: SIMPKIN MARSHALL 
HAMILTON KENT AND CO LTD 



4o/c 



Copyright 

First Edition 1912 
Second Edition 1913 



<P%6F<^CS TO Fii(sr 8T>iriO^ 

4 M *^HE idea of this brief outline of the life and 
m zuorks of Francis 'Thompson was suggested by 
the erection of the commemorative tablet on 
his birthplace^ and by inquiries then made con- 
cerning his life and career. I am indebted to 
Mr. Meynell for permission to quote from 
T hompson* s poems^ to Sir Alfred Hopkinson for 
information as to the poefs stay at Owens College^ 
and to the Rev. H. K. Mann (Newcastle-on-'Tyne), 
for leave to reproduce the two photographs of 
Thompson which appeared in the " Ushaw 
Magazine'''' for March 1908. / am also in- 
debted to the Magazine articles referred to 
{particularly the " Ushaw Magazine "), and to 
the prefatory note by Mr. Meynell and the 
" appreciations " in the volume of Selected Poems 
issued by Messrs. Burns iff Oates, Orchard 
Street, London, the Poefs publishers. 

JOHN THOMSON 

Great Avenham Street, 
Preston, September 191 2 



^%SF<^cs ro s6co^T> sDrrio^ 

71 "TOW that the circle of Francis Thompson'' s 
I 1/ readers is daily widening and the love of 
his poems has a place, second o?ily to their 
religion, in the hearts of thousands, there is no 
need to offer an apology for an enlarged edition of 
my little work on the great Poet. My special 
object is to help in making Thompson better 
known still, and so further his protest against the 
Materialism of the age, a protest which, in 
splendour and effectiveness, is absolutely unique 
in English literature. 

Give the world, the world. Let me see 
The light of Heav''n on land and sea 
Pregnant of Pow^r that was, and is, 
And is to be ! 

I am indebted to a sister of the Poet, a lady 
of " great heart and willing mind,''"' for some 
particulars of the Poefs family not included in 
the earlier edition. 



JOHN THOMSON 



Great Avenham Street, 

Preston, June 1913 



PART I 

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 



PAGB 

IS 



PART II 

SOME CHARACTERISTICS OF FRANCIS 

THOMPSON'S VERSE 71 

PART III 

NOTES ON SOME OF FRANCIS THOMPSON'S 

POEMS : 

(I) THE HOUND OF HEAVEN 95 

2) ODE TO THE SETTING SUN 103 

(3) DAISY III 

(4) IN NO STRANGE LAND 117 

(Thompson's last poem) 



LIST OF ILLUST-H^^riO^ 



FACING 
PACE 



FRANCIS THOMPSON IN 1893 Frontispiece 

BIRTHPLACE OF FRANCIS THOMPSON 18 

FRANCIS THOMPSON AT THE AGE OF FIFTEEN 26 



II 



Francis, thy music like a deep stream f,<Kos 
From mystic heights, and mirrors as it goes 
The shades and splendours of that prismy peak 
Where poet-dreamers dwell, and tireless seek 
Strains most adequate ; and thy song is Jed 
By cyclic hauntings from the cliffs of dread 
Thou perforce clomb, a wider world to scan. 
And catch lost echoes of the Pipes of Pan. 

From other sounds aloof thy message rolls. 

And men must hearken for it draws their souls : 

Now thrills with awe, and now with such sweet stress 

As linketh heart to heart in tenderness 

By dire compellings, none save those may wield. 

Whose birth-fused breath is fashioned for the yield — 

Who reach the crovmed gates, and entrance gain 

To highest Heaven, through the Arch of Paiii ! 

J. T. 



M 



posr ^:ht> mystic 



Pass the gates of Luthany^ 
Tread the region Eknore. 



Go, songs, Jor ended is our brief, sweet flay ; 

Go, children of swift joy and tardy sorrow : 
And some are sung, and that was yesterday. 

And some unsung, and that may he to-morrow. 

Go forth ; and if it be o'er stony way. 

Old joy can lend what viewer grief must borrow : 

And it was szueet, and that was yesterday. 

And sweet is sweet, though purchased zvith sorrow. 

F. Thompson 



i6 



POST ^3^ MYSTIC 

FRANCIS THOMPSON, poet and 
mystic, " master of the lordly line, the 
daring image, and the lyric's lilt," was 
born at Preston, on the i8th December 1859, 
in the house numbered 7 Winckley Street, 
now used as a solicitor's office. He was 
baptized at St. Ignatius' Church, in that 
town, on the 20th of the same month. His 
full name, as it appears on the register of 
births, is Francis Joseph Thompson ; but his 
first published poem having been signed 
" Francis Thompson," it was thought advis- 
able that he should (as he ever afterwards 
did) adhere to the shorter form. The com- 
memorative tablet placed, on the loth August 
1910, over the doorway of the house where 
the poet first saw the light, gives his name 
in full. The tablet is the gift of Mrs. 
Catherine Holiday, of Hawkshead (formerly 
of Preston), and it is a sadly curious fact 
that, only after many inquiries, could the 
exact birthplace of one destined " down the 
annals of fame to carry a name immortal " 
— the greatest of his proud town's sons — be 
found. 

17 



The poet's father was Charles Thompson, a 
homoeopathic doctor of some note — a man 
(according to a writer in the Church Times *) 
firm and kind, but somewhat austere, and with 
no poetic instinct ; his mother, Mary Turner 
Thompson, formerly Morton. Both parents 
were Catholics, and converts from Anglicanism 
some years before their marriage. Francis was 
the second of the five children, all of whom 
were born in Preston. Two babies, Charles 
Joseph, the first-born (who only lived a day), 
and Helen Mary, the fourth, are buried there. 
Such literary traditions as descended to our 
poet would seem to have come through a 
paternal uncle, Edward Healy Thompson, who 
rose to some distinction, and is still remembered, 
by his religious writings. 

Dr. Thompson appears to have lived in 
several houses in Preston — the one in Winckley 
Street, already mentioned ; before that (prob- 
ably from 1856 to 1858) at 12 St. Ignatius' 
Square ; and after the birth of Francis, first in 
Winckley Square, and later in Latham Street. 
Two of the doctor's children were born at the 
house in Winckley Square (No. 3 3 a) — one in 
1 861, the other in 1862. It was whilst residing 

* April 21, 1911. 
18 




BIRTHPLACE OF^ FRANCIS THOMPSON 
7WINCKLEY STREET, PRESTON 



in Latham Street, in 1864, that his daughter 
Helen Mary died, and his fifth child was 
born. The doctor's removal to Ashton- 
under-Lyne towards the end of 1864, while 
his three surviving children were so young, 
will no doubt account for that town being 
sometimes given as the poet's birthplace.* 
Dr. Thompson (who had married again, 
after the death of his first wife in 1880, and 
left one child of the second marriage), died 
in 1896. 

Young Francis was sent, on the 22nd of ^^^ 
September 1870, to Ushaw College, nearfy*"^ 
Durham, well known at that time for its^ — 
literary associations with Lingard and Wise- 
man, and later, with Lafcadio Hearn. His 
education up to this had been at home, at the 
hands of his mother and the family governess. 

It was his parents' wish that his college/' 
studies should be such as to fit him for thel 
priesthood, or, failing a vocation, such as would) 
be of assistance in the father's profession of I 
medicine : and instructions were given accord- I 
ingly to the college authorities. Our youthful 

* Even the Ushaw Magazine (March 1908) refers to 
Francis Thompson, " born at Ashton-under-Lyne" etc. 
Another town which has been accorded the honour of the 
poet's birth is Boston ! 

B 19 



student soon evinced a remarkable love of books, 
and being specially indulged by his masters' in 
his taste for the reading of the classics, he early- 
distinguished himself in such subjects as their 
ample reading would naturally improve. Most 
of his leisure hours were spent in the well- 
stocked libraries, sometimes, in his seminary 
days, behind a barrier of books erected as a 
protection from the " attentions " (catapults, 
bullets of paper, and the like) of his class-mates. 
He was not strong enough to take much part in 
the college games, and only in the racquet 
courts, at handball, did he attain a proficiency 
above the average. His companions relate 
that he was extremely fond of watching, and 
was accounted a good judge of. Cricket. In- 
deed, the " sunlit pitch " had a fascination for 
him which he never lost. Towards the end of 
his life he knew all the famous scores of the 
preceding quarter of a century : after his death, 
the averages of his cricket heroes, for over 
thirty years, most carefully compiled, were 
found among his papers, and with them some 
verses on the absorbing game, in which the 
names of Hornby and Barlow appear. The 
verses, trivial and probably never intended for 
print, end : 

20 



"POST (t^^N^'Z) ^SMTSriC 

It is little I repair to the matches of the Southron 
folk, 
Though my own red roses there may 
blow ; 
It is little I re-pair to the matches of the Southron 
folk. 
Though the red roses crest the caps I 
know. 
For the field is full of shades as I near the shadowy 

coast, 
And a ghostly batsman plays to the bowling of a 

ghost : 
And I look through my tears on a soundless, 
clapping host. 
As the run- stealers flicker to and fro. 

To and fro, 
O my Hornby and my Barlow, long ago. 

The lines are not dated, but seem to have 
been called forth by an incident which 
occurred not long before the poet's death. 
It would appear that he had been invited 
to Lord's to see Middlesex and Lancashire, 
and had agreed to go ; but as the time 
for the match drew near, the sad memories 
of bygone days became too much for him. 
The pathetic interest of a composition so 

21 



reminiscent of the " long ago " will be un- 
derstood by those who know what it is to 
miss their favourite faces from the field of 
sport. It may be mentioned in passing, that 
Thompson wrote a lengthy criticism of " The 
Jubilee Book of Cricket " in the Academy 
— a criticism full of Cricket acumen. 
"\ Whilst at Ushaw, Thompson wrote a number 
of verses, some of which are still in the posses- 
sion of the college authorities, or of college 
companions. In more than one, the quaint, 
spelling and love of the older words which 
marked his later works are noticeable. It 
must be for others to say how far these 
early efforts exhibit the buddings of that 
exuberant genius, which was afterwards to 
display itself so wonderfully. Five such 
poems, " Lamente forre Stephanon," " Song 
of the Neglected Poet," " Finchale," "Dirge 
of Douglas," " A Song of Homildon," are 
given in full in the Ushaw Magazine for 
March 1908. "The Song of the Neglected 
Poet," by its very title, cannot fail to ex- 
cite interest among Thompson lovers. Its 
theme is the praise of poesy : the first three 
verses run : 



22 



"POST <^^T> .^rsric 

Still, be still zuithin my breast, thou ever, ever 
wailing heart ; 
Hush, O hush within my bosom, beating, 
beating heart of mine I 
Lay aside thy useless grief, and brood fiot o^er thy 
aching smart. 
Wherefore but for sick hearts'* healing, came 
down poesy divine ? 

Mourn not, soul, o^er hopes departed, efforts spent, 
and spent in vain ; 
On a glorious strife we entered, and ^twasfor a 
priceless stake ; 
Well "'twas foughten, well we'^ve struggled, and, 
thd' all our hopes are slain, 
Tet, my soul, we have a treasure not the banded 
world can take. 

Poesy, that glorious treasure I Poesy my own for 
(?Vr / 
Mine and thine, my soul, for ever, ours though 
all else may be gone ; 
Like the sun it shone upon us when our life began 
so fair. 
Like the moon it stays to cheer us nozv our night 
is almost done. 



23 



The " Dirge of Douglas " has a martial ring : 
Let no ruthful burying song 

Lament the Earl of Douglas, 
But let his 'praises loud and long 
Echo the rocks and hills among. 
Poured from the lips of warriors strong, 

The doughty Earl of Douglas ! 

***** 

Bear him to his grave with a warlike pace. 
Sing no sad requiem o^er him ; 

The mightiest he of all his race. 

He is gone, and none can fill his place ! 

Let the champion lie in his warrior^ s grace 
Where his forefathers lay before him. 

The " Song of Homildon " is a mere frag- 
ment : 
"Now every man from hill and plain 

Follow the banner of Percy ; 
Far into Northumberland, trampling o^er slain, 
The doughty Earl Douglas hath forayed amain, 
And scorneth all ruth or mercy. 

Hotspur hath girded his harness on. 

And plucked his sword from the scabbard ; 
He led his army to Homildoii, 
There, e^er the ruddy moon be done, 
The lion must yield to the libbard. 
H 



"POST ^^T> rMTSTIC 

Neither in arithmetic, nor later in mathe- 
matics, was the young poet a success. Indeed, 
at the end of his college career, he had fallen 
to the last place in mathematical subjects. 
But in English and essay-writing he was often 
the first, both at seminary and college. On 
five only out of the twenty-one occasions in his 
seminary days when examinations in essay- 
writing were held, did he fail to secure the top ■ 
place. From these early compositions, many 
of which are still in existence, it would appear 
that battles and sieges were the favourite 
subjects in prose of the shy and gentle youth 
whose own battle of life was destined to 
be singularly severe and prolonged. One of 
his essays, " The Storming of the Bridge of 
Lodi," written for a speaker at the debat- 
ing club in 1874 (^^^ 7^^^ Francis passed 
from seminary into college proper), evoked 
considerable enthusiasm among his com- 
panions. 

The seven years spent by Thompson at 
Ushaw stamped his after-life deeply with its 
religious atmosphere. He was orthodox through 
and through, " from within, from beneath, 
outward to his acts, upward to his poetry." 
Though it was not his lot to receive a call to 

25 



the priesthood, his verses are, oftener than any 
other poet's, vestment-clad and odorous of the 
incense of the sanctuary. If, as has been said 
by one, his poetry is spiritual even to a fault, it 
must be a " fault " the glory, doubtless, of his 
Alma Mater ! 

It was after our poet left Ushaw (whose 
peaceful groves he never revisited), that the 
clouds of his life began to gather. He returned 
to his home (Stamford Street, Ashton-under- 
Lyne) in July 1877, and was sent, in October of 
the same year, to Owens College, Manchester, 
to study medicine. Thus much is known that 
the subject was entirely distasteful to him, and 
that, though he distinguished himself in Greek 
in a preliminary examination, he did not 
devote himself to the reading necessary for the 
profession which it was now intended he should 
follow : like Keats in his hospital- walking days, 
he was more engrossed by volumes of poetry 
than by treatises on anatomy. The " Halls of 
Medicine " saw him but seldom : it was in 
the public libraries of Manchester, with his 
favourite authors, the poets, that he spent 
most of his days. His passion for cricket led 
him often, at this time, to Old Trafford, 
among the great matches which he witnessed 
26 




FRANCIS THOMPSON AF THE AGIC OP^ FU-THKN 



there being the historic meeting of Lancashire 
and Gloucestershire on July 25, 26, and zy, 
1878. 

Thompson spent nearly eight years at Owens 
College. Among those contemporary with 
him are many names of eminence : Professor 
W. Thorburn, Dr. E. S. Reynolds, Dr. Robert 
Maguire, Dr. Leopold Larmuth, and the late 
Dr. Thomas Harris, among the rest. But 
Thompson as a medical student was a misfit, 
for his hopes of healing lay elsewhere than 
in the consulting-room, as his " Song of the 
Neglected Poet," already quoted, shows. 

The graceful memorial recently (July 191 2) 
affixed in Manchester University to Thomp- 
son's memory as a student at Owens College 
bears some sad lines (taken from his " Ode 
to the Setting Sun "), which may serve to in- 
dicate the sense of disappointment haunting 
his life at the period of closing his medical 
studies : 

Whatso looks lovelily 
Is but the rainbozv on lifers weeping rain. 
Why have we longings of immortal pain, 
And all we long for mortal P Woe is me. 
And all our chants hut chaplet some decay 
As mine this vanishing — nay vanished day. 

27 
/ 



He does not seem ever to have concealed his 
mode of living at Manchester, or his repugnance 
to the profession selected for him, and in the 
end, the student whose heart v^^as set on the 
construction of sentences rather than that of 
the human body, had to listen to the reproaches 
of an angry parent. There was a terrible scene 
between father and son. Still unwilling to 
pursue his medical studies, and fearful of 
another such meeting, the young man tried to 
enlist for a soldier, but being refused for want 
of the requisite chest-measurement, abruptly 
fled from home. In the ordinary course he 
would have spent the summer vacation of that 
year (1885) away from home with his father ; 
but it was shortly before the vacation — in the 
July of 1885 — that the break, which was to 
bring such sad consequences in its train, came. 
Francis seems to have left with little in his 
pocket, and walked by many a devious way, until 
he arrived, in search of a living, in London. In 
the words of Mr. Mcynell : '' Like De Quincey 
he went to London, and knew Oxford Street 
for a stony-hearted stepmother." Arrived in 
the great city, without means and without any 
prospects before him, his life's tragedy began. 
Like Shakespeare in his early London days, it 
28 



was only by accepting "mean employment" 
that Thompson kept his soul in his body. 

He worked for a while as an assistant in a 
boot-shop near Leicester Square. " Are you 
saved ? " he had been asked one day in the 
street by a man pitying his plight. " What 
right have you to ask ? " returned the poor 
youth. The questioner, persisting in his good 
intentions, answered quietly, " Well, never 
mind about your soul. Your body is in a bad 
way. If you want work, come to me." And 
so the young poet became a handy boy in a 
boot-shop ! Later, he got work as a " col- 
lector " for a bookseller, for whom he had to 
haul heavy sacks through the streets. But 
days there were when no employment of any 
kind could be had, and the homeless night 
followed perforce the hungry day. Those who 
see in Thompson's poem, " The Hound of 
Heaven," a narration of his own experiences, 
will find many a passage which may have been 
suggested by this period : 

In the rash lustihead of my young fozvers, 

I shook the -pillaring hours 
And fulled my life upon me ; grimed with smears, 
I stand amid the dust o' the mounded years — 

29 



My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap. 
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke^ 

Have puffed and hurst as sun- starts on a stream. 

* % # # « 

Ah I must — 
Designer Infinite ! — 
Ah ! must Thou char the wood ere 'Thou canst 

limn with it ? 

* * * * * 

In vain my tears were wet on Heaven's grey cheek. 

* * * * * 

Lines such as these tell their own story of the 
years " with heavy griefs so overplussed." 

Thompson was never physically strong. He 
had been afflicted with a nervous breakdown 
before leaving Manchester, from the effects of 
which he never recovered. His life in London, 
before his " discovery " in 1888, cut off from 
home, and without a friend, must have been 
terrible. At times utterly destitute, at others 
glad to earn a trifling sum by any odd job 
(selling matches and the like) that chance 
threw in his way, his home perchance a railway 
arch or bench in the Park — oppressed, too, by 
the thoughts of filial duty unfulfilled, it is no 
wonder that he should have sought the attrac- 
tions of laudanum (whose wiles he learned 

30 



'POST ftA^KT) ^MYSTIC 

whilst a student of medicine) to bring some 
measure of relief. It is related that on one occa- 
sion in his darkest-days he was so strongly tempted 
to self-destruction that he only escaped the 
tempter by some mysterious, unseen interven- 
tion, and that the heaven of which he writes : 

^hort arm needs man to reach to heaven. 
So ready is heaven to stoop to him ; 

did indeed stoop down to save him, by dashing \^ 
away the poison he had intended, in a fit of 
despair, to take. 

There is a touching incident (again recalling 
De Quincey) recorded in his own matchless 
way in his volume of " Sister Songs " (A Child's 
Kiss) which must have occurred in this " night- 
mare " time : 

Once, bright Sylviola / in days not far, 
Once — in that nightmare-time which still 

doth haunt 
My dreams, a grim, unbidden visitant — 

Forlorn, and faint, and stark, 
I had endured through watches of the dark 

The abashless inquisition of each star. 
Tea, was the outcast mark 

Of all those heavenly passers'' scrutiny ; 
Stood bound and helplessly 

3J 



For 'Time to shoot his barbed minutes at me ; 
Suffered the trampling hoof of every hour 

In nighfs slow-wheeled car : 
Until the tardy dawn dragged me at length 
From under those dread wheels; and, bled of strength, 

I waited the inevitable last. 

Then there came fast 
A child ; like thee, a Spring flower ; hut a flower 
Fallen from the budded coronal of Spring, 
And through the city streets blown withering. 
She passed, — O brave, sad, lovingest, tender 

thing ! — 
And of her own scant pittance did she give. 

That I might eat and live : 
Thenjied, a swift and trackless fugitive. 

To what extent our poet's wedding with 
poverty fashioned an offspring in his poems 
will be for his biographer to^note. The maga- 
zine to which Thompson sent his first accepted 
piece was Merry England. It has been stated 
that Thompson heard of the existence of this 
magazine through the late Bishop (then Canon) 
Carroll, who, meeting him in London, had 
determined to do what he could to help him in 
his work, and wrote to tell him of the possi- 
bilities which the magazine offered. For a 
32 



"POST (L^^D .^rsric 

couple of years the poor poet had been sending 
verses, written on scraps of paper picked up in 
the streets, to impatient editors — but without 
result. To the magazine mentioned he sent, 
some time late in 1888, in hopelessly unpre- 
sentable manuscript, a poem (said to be 
" Dream Tryst ") which has been described as 
" one of the brightest lights of his genius." The 
brilliancy of the verse-set gems was recognized 
by the editor, Mr. Wilfrid Meynell, and the 
poem and its acceptance became the turning- 
point in the poet's career, at a time when all 
hope seemed gone. The tender-hearted editor, 
not content with publishing the verses, deter- 
mined to find and assist their author. The 
address — " Post Office, Charing Cross " — given 
on the manuscript afforded but little clue 
however, and the search for the vagrant poet, 
then in the most pitiable state after his three 
years and more of London vagrancy and months 
of appalling suffering, was a long one. The 
chemist in Drury Lane from whom Thompson 
procured the drug which he used to ease his 
" human smart " was consulted — and in the 
end the poet was traced to his lodging, to be 
rescued when everything seemed utterly lost. 
Won over by the sympathy of both Mr. and 

33 



Mrs. Meynell, he agreed to place himself under 
their care. He was received temporarily into 
their home, and made the friend of their 
children. Canon Carroll, who had, years be- 
fore, made efforts on behalf of the poet's 
family to trace the missing youth in the crowd 
of London's submerged tenth, now became 
the intermediary between Thompson and his 
father, and had the happiness of finding his 
efforts to bring about a reconciliation success- 
ful. By his manly tenderness in doing all that 
was possible to heal the scars of the wanderer, 
the Canon so won the poet's heart that (as 
told by one who knew both poet and prelate 
intimately) the attitude of the one to the other 
was thenceforth that of " a little child at his 
father's knee." After being medically treated 
and carefully nursed, Thompson lived for nearly 
two years in the Premonstratensian monastery 
at Storrington, in Sussex. 

It is to Mr. Meynell's son (Mr. Everard 
Meynell) that the literary world will have to 
look, in his forthcoming biography of the poet, 
for many particulars of the poet's inner life : 
and it is not strange that the children of the 
Meynell family became the subject of some of 
Thompson's finest verses. To their mother, 

34 



POST e^^D .EMTSTIC 

Mrs. Meynell * (the gifted poetess eulogized 
by Ruskin), he dedicated the group of poems, 
" Love In Dian's Lap," besides many other 
charming pieces. To Mr. Meynell himself, 
under the Initials " VV. M.," he addressed the 
touching lines : 

O tree of many branches ! One thou hast 

Thou barest not, hut grafted'' st on thee. Now, • 

Should all men's thunders break on thee, and leave j 

Thee reft of bough and blossom, that one branch 

Shall cling to thee, my Father, Brother, Friend^ 

Shall cling to thee, until the end of end I 

Of Storrington, Mr. Meynell, In his bio- 
graphical note prefaced to the volume of 
" Selected Poems," states : " That beautiful 
Sussex village has now its fixed place on the 
map of English literature. For there It was 
that Francis Thompson discovered his possi- 
bilities as a poet." From thenceforth (Novem- 
ber 1888) until about 1897, when he took 
mainly to the writing of prose, Thompson 
soared higher and higher in his poetic flights, 
while his fame steadily grew. If his works are 

* An interesting estimate and review of the poetry of 
Mrs. Meynell " to-day sole queen of poetry in this land " — 
with special reference to the poetry of Francis Thompson- 
appeared in the British Review of March 191 3. 

c 35 



not yet as widely known as certain lesser 
writers', it is partly because Thompson is the 
poets' poet, and partly because, as an article in 
the Ushaw Magazine puts it, verses such as 
his, by their deep symbolism and old-time 
words, " are by their very character slow- 
footed travellers. They will journey far, but 
they must have time." 

The first volume of Thompson's Poems, 
which appeared in November 1893, under the 
simple title, " Poems,"* attracted attention 
immediately. Referring to the section '* Love 
in Dian's Lap," Canon Yates writes : " Was 
woman ever more exquisitely sung ? I do not 
know in the whole realm of English poetry a 
more noble tribute to noble womanhood." Of 
one of the longer pieces, " The Hound of 
Heaven," in another section, the critics did not 
hesitate to say that it seemed to be, on the 
whole, the most wonderful lyric in the language, 
the author a Crashaw cast in a diviner mould — 
a worthy disciple of Dante — a companion of 
Cowley — the equal of Shelley. A foremost 
criticf summed it up as " the return of the 
nineteenth century to Thomas a Kempis." It 
delighted men of such diverse minds as Sir 

* Dedicated to Mr. and Mrs. MeyneU. 
t J. L. Garvin. 

36 



"POST e^^Z) ^MTSTIC 

Edward Burne-Jones and Mr. Coventry Pat- 
more ; the Bishop of London (who pronounced 
it " one of the most tremendous poems ever 
written ") ; and the Rev. R. J. Campbell, the 
Nonconformist divine. Grave and learned 
priests quoted it in their sermons ; scholars and 
literary men in every walk of life learnt it by 
heart ; the T^imes emphatically declared that 
men will still be learning it 200 years hence ! 
Considered by most authorities to be 
Thompson's masterpiece, " The Hound of 
Heaven " abounds in gems of artistic trope 
and poetic imagery. It is doubtful if any 
more impressively beautiful gallery of pictures, 
contained in the space of less than two hundred 
lines, has been seen in modern days. The 
subject-matter — God's pursuit and conquest of 
the resisting soul that would find its satisfaction 
elsewhere than in Him (God being symbolized 
as the Hound) — is described, to borrow the 
words of Patmore, " in a torrent of as humanly- 
expressive verse as was ever inspired by a 
natural affection." 

Of the poems in the first volume it will 
suffice to quote J. L. Garvin in The Bookman : 

" A volume of poetry has not appeared in 
Queen Victoria's reign more authentic in 
greatness of utterance than this. ... It is 

37 



perfectly safe to affirm that if Mr. Thompson 
wrote no other line, by this volume alone he is 
as secure of remembrance as any poet of the 
century. . . . Mr. Thompson's first volume 
is no mere promise — it is itself among the great 
achievements of English poetry ; it has reached 
the peak of Parnassus at a bound." 

The volume entitled " Sister Songs," dedi- 
cated to Monica and Madeline Meynell (whose 
names are thus immortalized), appeared in 1895. 
It is the most autobiographical of Thompson's 
volumes. Included in it is a poem (the " Poet 
and Anchorite " of " Selected Poems ") which 
contains some lines memorable by their special 
insight into the poet's inner self : 

Love anci love's beauty only hold, their revels 
In life''s familiar, penetrable levels : 

What of its ocean-floor P 

I dwell there evermore. 

From almost earliest youth 

I raised the lids 0' the truth. 
And forced her bend on me her shrinking sight — 

It was from stern truth, then, that the Prodigal 
of Song learned his Art ! 

" Sister Songs " is described by Mr. Archer 
as " a book which Shelley would have adored." 
The Times says it contains passages which 

38 



TOST <^^T> ^MTSTIC 

Spenser would not have disowned. To quote 
the latter more fully : " Thompson used his 
large vocabulary with a boldness — and especially 
a recklessness, almost a frivolity in rhyme — 
that were worthy of Browning. On the other 
hand, these rugged points were, at a further 
view, absorbed into the total effect of beauty 
in a manner which Browning never achieved. 
. . . These ' Sister Songs,' written in praise of 
two little sisters, contain a number of lovely 
and most musical lines, and some passages — 
such as the seventh section of the first poem — 
which Spenser would not have disowned." 
The New Age summed up its estimate : 
" We have not in the English tongue a 
volume more entirely packed with unalloyed 
poetry." 

The last volume of verse (1897) entitled 
" New Poems " * bears the same high mark 
of genius, winning the highest praise from the 
critics and reviewers. Sir A. T. Quiller-Couch 
(" Q ") sums up his estimate of " The Mistress 
of Vision " : " It is verily a wonderful poem ; 
hung, like a fairy-tale, in middle air — a sleeping 
palace of beauty set in a glade in the heart of 
the woods of Westermain, surprised there and 
recognized with a gasp as satisfying, and 
* Dedicated to Coventry Patmore. 

39 



summarizing a thousand youthful longings 
after beauty." 

Maud Diver in her novel " Candles in the 
Wind " has many fine things to say of Thomp- 
son's third volume. One passage only (given 
purposely without reference to the particular 
character to which it refers) must suffice to 
show something of the novelist's appreciation : 

During the process [of reading " New Poems "] 
murmurs of admiration broke from him. He was 
poet enough to recognize in this new singer a star 
of the first magnitude ; and there, while the 
pageant in the west flamed and died, he read that 
regal " Ode to the letting Sun,'''* which is, in 
itself, a pageant of colour and sound ; a deathless 
vindication of DeatWs fruition. Then, eager for 
more, he passed on to " The Anthem of Earth^"* 
surrendering his soul to the onrush of its majestical 
cadences ; reading and re-reading, with an 
exalted thrill, certain lines, doubly pencilled, that 

echoed in his brain for days. 

***** 

At the end of an hour he sat there still — in a 
changed world ; a world no less stern and silent, 
yet mysteriously softened and spiritualized as if 
by the brush of a consummate artist. 

To the poems in the third volume, more than 
40 



TOST ^sx!^ .^rsric 

the rest, Thompson owes his title of a mystic. 
Included in the group " Sight and Insight " 
are to be found what are perhaps his most 
mystical pieces : " The Mistress of Vision," 
"The Dread of Height," "Orient Ode," 
"From the Night of Forebeing," "Any 
Saint," " Assumpta Maria," and " Grace of 
the Way " — all full of lofty grandeur combined 
■with rapturous fervour and a liturgical splen- 
dour and spiritual insight not to be found in 
any other of the long line of English singers. 

" The Selected Poems of Francis Thomp- 
son," with the biographical note by Mr. 
Meynell before referred to, and a portrait of 
the poet in his nineteenth year, was issued in 
1908. The selection, about fifty pieces in all, 
gives us of Thompson's best, and should serve 
to bring the larger works, from which they 
have been admirably chosen, before a wide 
circle of readers. The poems on children 
rightly take the first place ; of the one entitled 
" Ex Ore Infantium " (a Christmastide hymn 
which appeared originally in Franciscan 
Annals) y it is but sober truth to say that 
nothing so tenderly devotional, and yet so 
daringly unconventional, has ever before been 
put into language of such simple power. The 

41 



volume contains several of the greater poems in 
full, including " The Hound of Heaven," the 
" Ode to the Setting Sun," the " Orient Ode," 
and " Any Saint " (a partly direct, partly 
mystical poem, of special significance) ; extracts 
from the " Mistress of Vision," the " Victorian 
Ode " (written for Queen Victoria's Diamond 
Jubilee), " The Anthem of Earth," " Assumpta 
Maria," and others of the longer works ; the 
whole of " Daisy," " July Fugitive," " Dream 
Tryst," " Contemplation," and other poems, 
besides a number of simpler pieces — the Violets 
of Thompson's Garden of Poesy. The selection 
includes also the lines " In no Strange Land," 
found among the poet's papers after his death, 
and which are remarkable for their striking 
epitome of his teaching and final message. The 
patriotic " Victorian Ode," to be found in full 
in " New Poems " and written for one of the 
great dailies (the Daily Chronicle, if one 
mistakes not), was considered by many to be 
the best of the Diamond Jubilee Odes. 
Another and perhaps more famous ode is the 
one on Cecil Rhodes which Thompson wrote 
for the Academy, at the special request of the 
editor, Mr. Lewis Hind, and produced in less 
than three days — an example of rapidity in 
42 



" unpremeditated art " that must surely be 
imique. Mr. Hind said of it : "I am prouder 
of having published that ode than anything 
else that the Academy ever contained." Before 
the poem was a few weeks old, it was quoted 
on every side : one passage in particular struck 
the public fancy : 

From the Zambesi to the Limpopo 

He the many-languaged land 

Took with his large compacting hand 

And pressed into a nation 

* * * * *■ 

An ode for the centenary of Ushaw College, in 
1908, had been promised by the poet, but he did 
not live to do more th an sketch a few rough notes 
of the form he had intended it should take. 

Francis Thompson is not a poet with whom 
the multitudes of the reading public are as yet 
familiar, and even in his native town there are 
many to whom his name is still unknown. He 
ranks, nevertheless, as one of the few really 
great poetic geniuses and writers of his century, 
though his position cannot be definitely assigned 
until the world has had time to take more 
careful stock of his treasures, and had leisure to 
consider the full store of his literary output. 

43 



For Thompson was not only a poet, but in his 
later years a writer of prose as sonorous and 
wellnigh as remarkable as his poems. Genius, 
like nature, would appear to abhor a vacuum ; 
in our poet's case the years following 1897 may 
be described as his post-poetic period, a period 
which produced his great prose works and the 
many valuable reviews on Theology, History, 
Biography, and Travel which he contributed 
to the leading periodicals, and which are now 
being recovered, as was inevitable, from their 
files. The prose works which have been 
published separately up to the present are his 
*' Health and Holiness ; or, A Study of the 
Relations between Brother Ass, the Body, and 
his Rider, the Soul " (described as an admirable 
scholastic essay, in heroic prose), and his works 
on Shelley, on St. Ignatius of Loyola, and 
St. John Baptist de la Salle.* The essay on 

* The collected works of Francis Thompson have just 
(June 1 91 3) been issued in three volumes. Vols, i and ii 
comprise " Poems," " Sister Songs," " New Poems," and 
a large number of poems for the first time gathered 
together. Vol. iii consists of the " Shelley " and " Health 
and Holiness " essays, besides a number of new creative 
papers, and a selection from Thompson's literary and critical 
articles. Aboutone-fourthof the poetry is stated to be new to 
book-form. It is interesting to note that the " Life of Francis 
Thompson," by Mr. Everard Meynell, so eagerly looked forward 
to, is now definitely announced for September 191 3. 

44 



"POST e^5\CT) ^MTsric 

Shelley was pronounced by Mr. George Wynd- 
ham to be " the most important contribution 
to pure letters written in English during the 
last twenty years." This now world-famous 
essay is not the longest, but it is undoubtedly 
the most brilliant of Thompson's prose works 
and the most exhausting of his efforts. Its 
history is remarkable. Written, as it was, at 
the request of Bishop (afterwards Cardinal) 
Vaughan for the Dublin Review, which the 
Bishop owned but did not edit, it was 
refused acceptance by the editor, to be there- 
upon thrown aside by the discouraged author. 
Mr. Meynell, Thompson's literary executor, 
found it among the poet's papers at his death 
nineteen years later, and thinking it right that 
the Review for which it was originally intended 
should still have the offer of it, since a new 
generation of readers and another editor had 
arisen, again sent it up to the Dublin Review — 
this time to be accepted. " Thus " (to quote 
Mr. Meynell himself) " it happened that this 
orphan among essays entered at last on a full 
inheritance of fame. Appreciative readers 
rapidly spread its renown beyond their own 
orthodox ranks ; and, for the first time in a 
long life of seventy-two years, the Dublin 

45 



Review passed into a second edition. That 
also was soon exhausted, but not the further 
demand, which the separate issue is designed 
to meet." For " The Life of St. Ignatius of 
Loyola," which with the essay on Shelley must 
ever remain the chief memorials to his power as 
a prose-writer, original research was, of course, 
impossible, but, as stated in Fr. Pollen's 
editorial note, the author brought to his work 
the sympathy of genius with genius, and had 
almost a contemporary's afhnity with the age 
in which the Saint lived. The Rev. Dr. Barry, 
himself a distinguished writer, says of it : " It 
is a portrait from life, not a copy. . . . While 
we read these lines the founder of the great 
Company stands before us in his habit as he 
lived." And again : " I hold that our dead 
poet has written a Life exact in statement, 
beautiful in point of style. ... It is a notable 
addition, if we ought not rather to call it the 
beginning of a true English literature, in its 
own department." In an interesting passage 
in the Life, the Saint is compared with John 
Wesley, whose lives, though so unlike out- 
wardly, had much of similarity below the 
surface. 

" The Life of St. John Baptist de la Salle," a 
46 



<P0S7' <^,9CD ^MTSriC 

shorter work, presents the Hfe of the Founder 
of the Christian Brothers with singular fehcity, 
and contains in the closing chapter a brilliant 
epigrammatic defence of the Church's cham- 
pionship of free education, in which Thompson, 
as a prose writer, is seen at his best. 
# * * * * 

A seventeenth-century poet, born in the 
nineteenth, bringing with him the solace of 
old-time melody — melody like unto the richest 
strains of Crashaw and Cowley — Francis 
Thompson depends mainly on his poetical 
works for his place among the literary giants of 
his age. His poems are among the glories of 
our literature. They have fashioned for them- 
selves thrones in the hearts of many to whom 
the charms of verse had never appealed before : 
their deep faith in the intimate presence of 
God has been an inspiration and spiritual tonic 
to innumerable souls. 

Writing of her husband, in the year 1893, 
Lady Burne- Jones mentions that the winter of 
that year was cheered by the appearance of a 
small volume of poems by Francis Thompson, 
whose name was, till then, unknown to them. 
The book moved Sir Edward to admiration and 
hope, and she tells that, speaking of " The 

47 



Hound of Heaven," he said : " Since Gabriel's 
' Blessed Damozel ' no mystical words have so 
touched me as ' The Hound of Heaven.' 
Shall I ever forget how I undressed and dressed 
again, and had to undress again — a thing I 
most hate — because I could think of nothing 
else ? " 

And thousands more have drawn encourage- 
ment and hope, not only from " The Hound of 
Heaven," but from many another of Francis 
Thompson's poems. Never, surely, was woman 
worshipped with such utter chastity. 
" Where," asks Mr. Traill in ^he Ningteenth 
Century, " unless perhaps here and there in a 
sonnet of Rossetti's, has this sort of sublimated 
enthusiasm for the bodily and spiritual beauty 
of womanhood found such expression between 
the age of the Stuarts and our own ? " 

Thompson is above all the poet of celestial 
vision. His poetry answers to the full Shelley's 
description of the function of poetry in general ; 
it " redeems from decay the visitations of the 
divinity in man." In no other great poet of 
the nineteenth century are these visitations 
more frequent or more splendid. The inten- 
sity of his mysticism — the glow and fervour of 
his verse — his rapturous communings, seem to 

48 



^OST <^^NZD ^MYSTIC 

have " fired " the very critics. The extracts 
appended, taken at random from a number of 
their appreciations, will serve to exhibit the 
unprecedented enthusiasm which the poet's 
lines exercised : 

One has seldom seen -poet more wildly abandoned 
to his rapture, more absorbed in the trance of his 
ecstasy. When the irresistible moment comes, he 
throws himself upon his mood as a glad swimmer 
gives himself to the waves, careless whither the 
strong tide carries him, knowing only the wild joy 
of the laughing waters and the rainbow spray. 
He shouts, as it were, for mere gladness, in the 
welter of wonderful words, and he dives swift and 
fearless to fetch his deep-sea fancies. — R. Le 
Gallienne, in 'The Daily Chronicle. 

Here are dominion — dominion over language, 
and a sincerity as of Robert Burns. . . . In our 
opinion, Mr. T hompson* s poetry at its highest 
attains a sublimity unsurpassed by any Victorian 
poet. — The speaker. 

To read Mr. Francis T hompson^ s poems is like 
setting sail with Drake or Hawkins in search cf 
new worlds and golde?i spoils. He has the 
magnificent Elizabethan manner, the splendour of 
conception, the largeness of imagery. — Katharine 
Tynan-Hinkson, in The Bookman. 

49 



He swung a rare incense in a censer of gold, 
under the vault of a chapel where he had hung 
votive offerings. When he chanted in his chapel 
of dreams, the airs were often airs which he had 
learnt from Crashaw and from Paimore. 'They 
came to life again when he used them, and he 
made for himself a music which was part strangely 
familiar and part his own, almost b e wilder ingly. 
Such reed-notes and such orchestration of sound 
were heard nowhere else ; and people listened to 
the music, entranced as by a new magic. The 
genius of Francis Thompson was Oriental, 
exuberant in colour, woven into elaborate patterns, 
and went draped in old silk robes, that had 
survived many dynasties. The spectacle of him 
was an enchantment ; he passed like a wild 
vagabond of the mind, dazzling our sight. — 
Arthur Symons, in The Saturday Review. 

In Francis T hompson* s poetry, as in the poetry 
of the universe, you can work infinitely out and 
out, but yet infinitely in and in. These two 
infinities are the mark of greatness ; and he was 
a great poet. — G. K. Chesterton, in The 
Illustrated London News. 

We find that in these poems profound thought, 

far-fetched splendour of imagery, and nimble- 

witted discernment of those analogies which are 

50 



^06T zAD^cj) ^mrsric 

the roots of the -poet's language^ abound . . . 
qualities which ought to place him in the 
permanent ranks of fame, with Cowley and with 
Crashaw. — Coventry Patmore, in The Fort- 
fiightly Review. 

The regal airs, the prophetic ardours, the 
apocalyptic vision, the supreme utterance — he has 
them all. — The Bookman. 

***** 

The later years of Thompson's Hfe seem to 
have been uneventful save for his writings, and 
for an incident in 1888, and another in 1897, 
either of which might have ended disastrously. 
Whilst at Storrington it was his custom to 
spend long hours in walks out of doors. On 
one of these walks, shortly after his arrival at 
the Monastery in November 1888, he got lost 
in a fog on the Downs, and was in a state of 
exhaustion when found. On the second occa- 
sion (some time in 1897), whilst in apartments 
in London, he had been smoking in bed, and 
having fallen asleep, awoke to find himself 
surrounded with flames. He jumped up, 
fortunately in time to enable him to escape 
without more damage to himself than the 
wrath which his irate landlady poured, justly 
enough, upon his head. 

D 51 



He stayed for some months In 1892 near to 
the Franciscan Monastery at Pantasapli in 
North Wales — and, returning to Pantasaph in 
1893, lived there continuously until late in 
1896 — a period marking with its close practi- 
cally the end of his greater poetical work. He 
did not live at the monastery (as has been 
stated elsewhere), but spent a good deal of 
time within its walls. His relations with the 
Friars were always cordial. Fr. Anselm, then 
the editor of Franciscan Annals^ and now 
Archbishop of Simla, became the poet's close 
friend. Except for a few days which he may 
have spent at the monastery pending suitable 
lodgings being found outside, Thompson lived 
in hired apartments in the little Welsh village, 
iirst with a family of working people, and later 
at the post office. Here, and in the monastic 
grounds — away from " the madding crowd " — 
he wrote some of his best work, including, from 
materials partly gathered in London and partly 
in the monastery library, a considerable por- 
tion of the prose life of St. Ignatius of Loyola, 
published after his death. Much of his verse 
is richly stained with the local colouring of the 
neighbourhood, and without doubt much of 
the exalted mystical thought which charac- 

52 



'POST ^^NiT> ^MTSriC 

terizes " New Poems " must have sprung from 
the religious atmosphere of Pantasaph, coupled 
with the poet's familiar intercourse with the 
Friars, and his visits to the neighbouring shrine 
at Holywell. The Welsh peasants of the 
district became, in time, quite accustomed to 
the poet's strange figure as he flitted ghost- 
like (as was his habit) among their mountain 
homesteads in the shades of the gathering 
night. With the Sons of the Little Poor Man 
of Assisi, whether at Crawley, another favourite 
home of the poet, or at Pantasaph, he seems to 
have been thoroughly happy. He enriched 
the Franciscan Annals with the altogether 
exquisite lines " Ex Ore Infantium," already 
mentioned, and a noble poem, " Franciscus 
Christificatus " — besides many prose articles, 
in one of which he anticipated much of the 
powerful plea for greater leniency to Brother 
Ass, the body, that he afterwards made in 
*' Health and Holiness." An article on Thomp- 
son which appeared in Franciscan Annals 
shortly after his death mentions his charmingly 
simple character : " He was of a surety one of 
the most interesting, and one of the most 
charmingly simple, and — we must add in these 
days of doubt — one of the most intensely and 

53 



instinctively orthodox, members of our little 
flock." 

About 1898 Thompson became attached to 
the staff of the Academy in London, and to that 
journal, and to the Athencsum, contributed 
many noteworthy articles and reviews. One of 
his colleagues on the Academy states that it was 
quite a usual thing when reading over the proof 
of an article by Thompson " to exclaim aloud 
on his splendid handling of a subject demanding 
the best literary knowledge and insight." 
Another has shown how Thompson exercised 
the privilege, peculiar to the poet, of disregard- 
ing the ordinary rules of method and order 
pertaining to a business office. He was (we are 
told) the most unbusinesslike creature, and 
often drove the editor to despair. His " copy " 
(always written on pages torn from penny 
exercise books) came pretty regularly, but it 
was almost impossible to get him to return 
proofs. Neither imploring letters nor peremp- 
tory telegrams availed. Then he would walk 
in, calmly produce from his basket or wonderful 
pockets a mass of galleys, and amongst them, as 
likely as not, two or three telegrams unopened. 
But (to quote Mr. Meynell once more) " editors 
forbore to be angry at his delays, for after a 

54 



POST lAV^jy ^ITSTIC 

while of waiting, they got from him, at last, 
what none else could give at all." It would be 
an utterly false conception of the poet to 
imagine that his life was spent in idleness. He 
lived every line of his poems — and the wonder 
is that with a body so weak, his brain should 
have been so incessantly active. Day and night, 
indoors or out, he was always at work on that 
cathedral of lovely thought which his name 
now represents. In " Health and Holiness " 
there is a memorable passage beginning : 
*' This truth is written large over the records 
of saintliness, the energy of the saints has left 
everywhere its dents upon the world." And 
in one of his poems the lines : 

From stones and foets you may know 

Nothing so active is, as that which least seems so — 

are examples, among many, which go to give 
a sidelight view of his own ideas on the value 
of " pauseless energy." 

Strangely enough his boyhood interest in 
matters military remained with him to the 
end. Mr. Hind soon saw the poet's fondness 
for campaigns, and tells how he made the most 
of it : "I discovered that his interest in battles, 
and the strategy of great commanders, was as 

55 



keen as his concern with cricket. So his 
satchel was filled with military memoirs, and 
retired generals, ensconced in the arm-chairs of 
service clubs, wondered. Here was a man who 
manipulated words as they manipulated men." 

A pen picture of Thompson at the time that 
he was on the Academy staff, furnished by an 
intimate associate, thus depicts him : 

A stranger figure than Thom-pson's was not to- 
he seen in London. Gentle in looks, half-wild in 
externals, his face worn by -pain and the fierce 
reactions of laudafium, his hair and straggling 
beard neglected, he had yet a distinction and an 
aloofness of bearing that marked him in the 
crowd ; and when he opened his lips, he spoke as 
a gentleman and a scholar. A cleaner mind, a 
more naively courteous manner, were not to he 
found. It was impossible and unnecessary to 
think always of the tragic side of his life. He still 
had to live and work in his fashion, and his entries 
and exits became our most cheerful institutions. 

I No money (and in his later years 'Thompson 
suffered more from the possession of money than 
from the lack of it) could keep him in a decent suit 
of clothes for long. Tet he was never " seedy.'''* 
From a newness too dazzling to last, and seldom 

56 



"POST ^,9{T> SMTSTIC 

achieved at that, he passed at once into a 'pictu- 
resque nondescript garb that was all his own and 
made him resemble some weird pedlar or packman 
in an etching by Ostade. This impression of him 
was helped by the strange object — his fish basket, ' 
we called it — which he wore slufig round his 
shoulders by a strap. 

Thompson cared nothing for the worWs com- 
ment, and though he would talk with radiant 
interest on many things, it was always with a 
certain sunny separateness, as though he issued 
out of unseen chambers of thought, requiring 
nothing, but able and willing to interest himself 
in the thing to which his attention was drawn. 
He had ceased to make demands on life. He 
ear-marked nothing for his own. As a reviewer, 
enjoying the run of the office, he never pounced on 
a book ; he waited, and he accepted. Interested 
still in life, he was no longer intrigued by it. He 
was free from both apathy and desire. Un- 
embittered by the destitution and despair he had 
known, unestranged from men by his passionate 
communings with the mysteries of faith and 
beatific vision, Thompson kept his sweetness and 
sanity, his dewy laughter, and his -fluttering 
gratitude. In such a man, outward ruin could 

57 



never be pitiable or ridiculous, and, indeed, he 

never bowed his noble head but in adoration. I 

think the secret of his strength was this : that he 

had cast up his accounts with God and man, and 

thereafter stood in the mud of earth with a heart 

wrapped in suchjire as touched IsaiaWs lips. He 

was humbly, daringly, irrevocably satisfied of his 

soul. 

***** 

1 cannot follow, far less expound, the faith 
which 'Thompson held so humbly, and embellished 
so royally. But I am very certain that if these 
things are so, and if God loves that man who for a 
wage of tears refines fine gold for His Ark, and 
with bleeding hands digs the rock for its adorning, 
then indeed the morass is become firm ground, and 
my old friend sees, through some thinner veil, 
" the immutable crocean dawn effusing from the 
Father's Throne:' * 

Another picture of the poet, this time as he 
appears to an Eastern mind, is to be found in 
S. K. Ghosh's Indian romance, " The Prince of 
Destiny." In this dramatic semi-poHtical story 
" the presentment of India by an Indian," 
Francis Thompson is introduced as one of the 

* Wilfred Whitten (" John o' London,") in 7". P.'j Weekly, 
November 29, 1907. 

58 



"POST <tA^D mrsric 

characters, with many an interesting gHmpse of 
his personahty. " He was of medium height, 
but very sHght of frame, which made him look 
taller than he really was. His cheeks were so 
sunken as to give undue prominence to a little 
grey beard that was pointed at the end, but 
otherwise untrimmed." Barath (the Prince- 
hero of the tale) meets Thompson at Waterloo 
Station, both, as it happens, though unknown 
to each other, bound for Boscombe. Barath 
notices his eyes, " in fact, struck by them 
from the first, he had noticed nothing else. 
Whether they were light grey or blue he could 
not tell ; it was their lustre, not their colour, 
that arrested his attention. As for his garb, 
Barath cared little. . . . But the lustre of 
those eyes, intensified by the contrast of the 
sunken cheeks and emaciated face he had never 
seen in England before." Barath is going to 
visit a friend, Colonel Wingate. Arrived at 
the house, he noticed that the Colonel was 
wrapt in thought, ever and anon casting an 
anxious glance down the gravel path which ran 
past the house in a line with the main road 
beyond. 

" Yes, we are expecting a friend," Wingate 
explains. " Rather, one, the privilege of whose 

59 



friendship we hope to deserve some day. . . . 
I am here to-day and gone to-morrow, but this 
man's work will last as long as the English 
language lasts — which itself will survive the 
wreck of the British Empire." 

Needless to say the expected guest is Francis 
Thompson, described later in the book as 
" this man whose intellect was perhaps the 
greatest among Englishmen of his day." A 
delightful glimpse is given of Thompson as a 
smoker. He takes out his pipe, strikes a match, 
gives a puff, holds the match over the bowl till 
his fingers are nearly burnt, then throws away 
the match, and strikes another — and so on. 
Wingate afterwards picks up the matches and 
counts them. " Just fourteen ! " he says glee- 
fully. But then he wraps them up in a piece 
of tissue paper and puts them carefully away 
in his vest pocket ! 

***** 

For some years before his death, Thompson 
was a familiar object in London streets, com- 
muning with the seraphim and cherubim as he 
passed along. Like Tennyson's Sir Galahad he 
mused on joy that will not cease — 

Pure spaces clothed in living beams — 
60 



"POST <tAv^(T> .mrsTic 

and neither the noise nor the fog of London 
streets could dispel his visions. He would 
wander about alone, apparently in an aimless 
fashion, but in reality absorbed in his own 
lavendered dreams — that state of alienation 
from passing things so necessary for thoughts 
" both high and deep." Often enough he 
might have been seen clad — winter and summer 
alike — in a brown cloak, or ulster, and with a 
basket, like a fish basket, slung around his 
shoulders. This he used to carry the books he 
had to review. Though of a painfully shy and 
retiring disposition, he was a cheerful com- 
panion, with the saving grace of humour. One 
who knew him well as boy and man states that 
" in him there sat enthroned not only the stern 
and haughty muse of Tragedy, but her gentler 
sister, Comedy." He was, too, as numerous 
passages in his works denote, a keen student of 
science. One failing — if failing it be — he cer- 
tainly had : he detested letter-writing. Even 
when he did write letters, he forgot, at times, 
to post them. A letter of many pages, written 
and directed to one of his sisters in 1899, was 
discovered among his papers at his death, eight 
years later ! The picture would hardly be 
complete without adding that, according to 

6i 



some (the late Mr. Patmore among them), 
Thompson was one of the best talkers in the 
city. He spoke from his own convictions with 
extreme fluency, yet weighing his words in 
matters of a controversial nature, and careful 
always to avoid offence. The hierarchic order 
of the universe, the culture and ethics of the 
Greeks, the philosophy of the schoolmen, the 
tactics of military commanders in bygone 
centuries, the latest advance in science — alike 
gave opportunity for the silver and gold 
surprises of his speech to the few (the very few) 
with whom he was familiar. On his favourite 
lines in Shakespeare and Milton, or the merits 
and virtues and the hundred niceties of style 
of his cricket heroes of the past, he would 
enlarge for hours. 

For reasons of health he did not give up the 
opium habit entirely, but reduced the doses 
to small ones, taken at infrequent intervals — 
and almost always with the object of relieving 
the terrible nerve pains from which he suffered. 

Emaciated and worn by disease, he could still 
exhibit an extraordinary glow and vivacity of 
manner. He dealt largely in the names and 
rites of old : the pomp of old-time facts formed 
the pomp of his present dreams. 
62 



The same mental abstraction which caused 
him to be nearly run over at Manchester in his 
student days — which caused him to be lost on 
the South Downs — which resulted in the 
burning of the bed on which he had fallen 
asleep while smoking in his apartments — and 
which is evidently hinted at in the incident of 
his alighting at the wrong station on the visit 
to Boscombe in the " Prince of Destiny " — 
followed him in all his moves. 

He seldom spoke of his nightmare days ; 
when he did, it was not complainingly. He 
could not have written with Tennyson — 
/ stretch lame hands of faith, and grope. 
And gather dust and chaff ; and call 
To what I feel is Lord of all, 
And faintly trust the larger hope. 

Aloof from men he dwelt with God, recog- 
nizing to the full — 

All which I took from thee I did but take 
Not from thy harms 
But just that thou mightst seek it in My arms. 

To his eyes the material universe was 
literally full of the " many-coloured wisdom of 
God," and Christ he saw 

Lo here ! lo there ! — ah me, lo everywhere ! 

6} 



Who can doubt the evident sincerity of the 
lines in " Any Saint " ? 

But He a little bath 
Declined His stately fath 

And my 
Feet set more high. 
# * * * 

And bolder now and holder 
I lean upon that shoulder, 

So near 
He is, and dear. 

Though Thompson's lot in Hfe was so 
opposite to that of the happy soul in Crashaw's 
" Temperance " — 

^he happy soul, that all the way 
To Heaven, hath a summer'' s day — 

he was not soured by his dreadful experiences, 
but with heart warmed by the Divine presence, 
accepted them in a patient, matter-of-fact way, 
conscious that he had kept " the white bird in 
his breast " protected. To other writers he 
was invariably generous. One who had been 
associated with him in literary work testifies : 
" A more careful or more generous reviewer 
never lived ; to contemporary poets, indeed, he 

64 



"POST <^^T> ^MTSriC 

was over tender, and / never heard him speak an 
ungenerous word oj any liviJig soul.'''' 

Devoted to his faith, enthusiastic when 
writing of her 

About whose mooned brows 
Seven stars make seven glows 
Seven stars for seven woes — 
in word and work ahke severely chaste — ^he has 
aheady been called " Our Lady's Poet." A 
more loyal courtier of the Queen of Heaven it 
would certainly be difficult to find 1 

A contributor to the Church T^imes (March 
191 1) writes that in later life Thompson always 
exculpated his father from any share in the 
break with the family which marked the poet's 
early years in London ; and clung to the 
recollection that they met again, when the 
father had been " entirely kind." As a matter 
of fact, they met on several occasions, and the 
reconciliation was most thorough and complete. 

The poet's fondness for children was of the 
most natural kind. He did not condescend to 
them ; he was one of themselves. Elaborate 
dissection of the child-mind did not commend 
itself to him at all. " He was content [as a 
Visiter in the Christian World Pulpit puts it] to 
play with children without analysing them, and 

65 



/ 



to pass with them through their own secret 
doorways into the wonder-world to which they 
belong." In answer to the question which he 
himself asks, " Know you what it is to be a 
child ? " he gives the answer : , " It is to have a 
spirit still streaming from the waters of baptism. 
It is to believe in love, to believe in loveliness, 
to believe in belief. It is to be so little that 
the elves reach to whisper in your ears ; it 
is to turn pumpkins into coaches, and mice into 
horses, lowness into loftiness, and nothing into 
everything.^ 

The poet's unaffected child-love is revealed 
in many a passage in his works. In " The 
Hound of Heaven " it is not in the wind- walled 
Palace of Nature, nor yet in the wilful face of 
skies, but it is with the little children that he 
makes the easing of the human smart come 
nearest to realization ! And in another poem, 
" To my Godchild," in Faith-drenched lines 
he makes it clear it is in the " Nurseries of 
Heaven " that he would be placed : 

^hen, as you search with unaccustomed glance 
'The ranks of Paradise for my countenance, 
Turn not your tread along the Uranian sod 
Among the bearded counsellors of God ; 
For, if in Eden as on earth are we, 
66 



'POS'T <^fN^ ^MYSTIC 

I sure shall keep a younger company : 
Pass where hefieath their ranged gonfalons 
The starry cohorts shake their shielded su?is, 
The dreadful mass of their enridged spears ; 
Pass where majestical the eter?ial peers. 
The stately choice of the great saintdom, meet — 
A silvern segregation, globed complete 
In sandalled shadow of the Triune feet ; 
***** 

Pass the crystalline sea, the lampads seven : — 

Look for me in the nurseries of Heaven. 
***** 

Thompson died of consumption. At the 
beginning of November 1907, he entered, on -. j 

the advice of his friends, the Hospital of St. ^^ I 
Ehzabeth and St. John, in St. John's Wood, 
London. There he died on the 13th of the 
same month, in his forty-eighth year. He had 
prepared himself devoutly for the end ; re- 
ceived the Sacraments ; and was ready when 
the summons, long expected, came. 

At the time of entering the hospital he was 
so terribly emaciated that he weighed but five 
stone. The devoted Sister (Mother Michael) 
who tended him states that he was very quiet 
and wonderfully unselfish in the ward, where he 
was visited from time to time by members of 

E 6-] 



the Meynell family. It is a curious circum- 
stance, worthy of passing mention, that among 
the books which he kept within reach as he lay 
dying, was Mr. Jacobs' " Many Cargoes." He 
was interred on the i6th of November, in 
St. Mary's Cemetery, Kensal Green. His grave 
now bears a stone on which, in beautiful letter- 
ing (the work of the sculptor Eric Gill) are the 
words : 

FRANCIS THOMPSON, 

1859— 1907 

" Look for me in the nurseries of Heaven." 

Surely no more suitable epitaph from his 
own works could have been chosen for one 
who, with all his gifts, was still a child at 
heart ! 

The sorrows of his earlier days had endeared 
him to his friends, and if the " uses of his 
adversity " had any sweets at all, among them 
must surely be reckoned the added endearment 
of those he cherished. In his cofhn were roses 
from the garden of Mr. George Meredith, 
inscribed with Mr. Meredith's testimony, " A 
true poet, one of a small band " ; and violets 
from kindred turf were sent by Mrs. Meynell, 
whose praises he had with such soul-worship 
sung. Mr. Meynell's biographical note pre- 
68 



"POST <^^T> ^MTSriC 

faced to the volume of " Selected Poems " 
ends : " Devoted friends lament him, no less 
for himself than for his singing. He had made 
all men his debtors, leaving to those \\\\o loved 
him the memory of a unique pcrL-onality, and 
to English poetry an imperishable name." 

His rich and varied colourings with their old- 
time touches of recaptured glory, his rapt 
mysticism and high thinking, the wide range of 
his mental vision, and the answering splendours 
of his lofty imaginings, have placed him high 
in the permanent ranks of fame. Indeed, it is 
true to say of Thompson — as of Shelley, Keats, 
and Tennyson — that so long as poems are read, 
so long will some of them, at least, be his — the 
great, though hitherto but little known 
Victorian, who shall yet be counted memorable 
by all jealous of the high traditions of our 
English Song. 



69 



OF F'F^A:JiCIS THOMTSO^S 



O ye dead. Poets, who are living still, 
Immortal in your verse, though life be fled — 
And ye, O living Poets, who are dead. 
Though ye are living, if neglect can kill — 
Tell me if in your darkest hours of ill 
With drops of anguish falling fast and red 
From the sharp crown of thorns upon your head, 
Ve were not glad your errand to fulfil? 

Longfellow 



rUOMTSO^^^HT) THS 

veiipicr OF TIMS 

IN literature, as in science and art, the 
great works of the high thinkers have 
not always obtained immediate appre- 
ciation. Indeed, many of the writers whom 
the verdict of time has placed among the 
immortals have, according to their bio- 
graphers, been slow of recognition. Coleridge, 
Keats, and, to a greater extent, Wordsworth, 
may be cited off-hand as examples of poets 
whose works remained enshrined for many 
years in the breasts of comparatively few 
readers. 

It need occasion no surprise, therefore, that 
Francis Thompson's poetry, although hailed 
with delight by the critics, is not yet as widely 
known as its merits deserve ; nor need it be 
thought that his verse will pass into semi- 
oblivion because, in the short space since the 
poet's death, it has not become the subject of 
universal notice from lovers of the muse. 
Great poetry advances but slowly in general 
estimation. Its appeal is always in the first 
instance to the more discerning thinkers, and 

73 



then to the larger body who are content to, or 
must of necessity, follow their lead. Of poetry 
meant — like Thompson's — to enlarge and 
elevate the mind, rather than tickle the 
vanity or follow the fashions of the age, it is 
especially true that its complete recognition 
must be the result of that maturer judgment 
which time alone can give. Doubtless, also, 
the deep symbolism pervading many of Thomp- 
son's poems must be taken into account in 
any consideration of the ultimate estimate of 
his work ; but it should be remembered that 
symbolism, when combined with clarity of 
vision and depth of poetical insight, may be 
the stronghold for a precious message which 
might, without such protection, be lost. 

It has been well said that in all real poetry 
— poetry that is to endure — there must be 
certain essentials : melody of rhythm ; fertility 
of ideas ; beauty of sentiment ; skilful dignifi- 
cation and blending of words ; the faculty of 
seeing what is dark to others. To say that 
Thompson had a wonderful and fascinating 
melody of rhythm ; a profusion of the loveliest 
ideas ; a deep, reverent, and ever-present 
sentiment and sense of the beauty on every 
side, and a profound mastery over many kinds 

74 



vs^ipicr OF ri^is 

of versification which he wedded to an extra- 
ordinary range of subjects — is not to exceed, 
but to fall below, the pronouncements of many 
of the greatest authorities. But over and 
above the richness of essentials, he had a vision 
so celestial, combined with an imagery so bold, 
yet withal so rich and beautiful, that he stands 
unsurpassed in these qualities by any con- 
temporary poet. Transcendent thought, glow- 
ing pictures, striking flashes of imagination, 
spell-binding touches of loveliness, passages 
of " intertwined intellectualism," abound in 
Thompson's verse. His is no more the poetry 
for an idle man as a substitute for a cigar than 
is Browning's. He takes an idea and develops 
it, adding layer after layer of thought with 
the insight of the seer, and the enthusiasm of 
the mystic saturated in consciousness of the 
supernatural. He roams heaven and earth 
alike in his quest for comparisons to illustrate 
the fancies of his mind. The marvel is that, 
being so heavily weighted with thought and 
symbol, he should proceed smoothly ; yet 
proceed smoothly he does — a very Paganini of 
flowing sound. The great things and the 
small alike serve his purpose. He is as " gold- 
dusty with tumbling amidst the stars " as 

75 



'THO^M'^SO^ ^A5^CT> THE 

Shelley (to whom he applies the description), 
yet a piece of burnt wood supplies the clue 
which he fashions into the subtle thought — 

Designer Infinite / — 
Ah ! must Thou char the wood ere 
Thou canst limn with it P — 

and a simple flower the lines — 

God took a fit of Paradise-wind, 

A slip of ccerule weather, 
A thought as simple as Himself, 

And ravelled them together. 

True it is that such passages as — 

Thou hast devoured mammoth and mastodon. 

And many a floating bank of fangs, 

The scaly scourges of thy primal brine. 

And the tower- crested plesiosaure. 

Thou fillest thy mouth with nations, gorgest slow 

On purple ceons of kings ; — 

(taken from his poem addressed to Earth) are 
to be found, yet nevertheless the same hand 
wrote the exquisitely simple lines : 

Little Jesus, wast Thou shy 
Once, arid just so small as I ? 
And what did it feel like to be 
Out of Heaven, and just like me ? 

76 



vs%T>icr OF ri^^s 

I should think that I would cry 
For my house all made of sky ; 
I would look about the air. 
And wonder where my angels were. 

Like Blake, it was his — 

To see a world in a grain oj sand, 
A heaven in a wild flower — 

Unlike Blake, his mysticism is never " merely 
mist," nor are his visions of awful holiness ever 
curtained in " concealing vapours purposely 
impenetrable." 

If no songster has beaten so painfully against 
the bars of the flesh, surely none has sung, as 
Thompson, at times, with such an ecstasy of 
delight. If many of his poems are charged 
with self-conscious sadness and bitter self- 
analysis, there is still enough of joyous offering 
left to catch his readers " fast for ever in a 
tangle of sweet rhymes." To read his verse is 
to walk for ever after in a more beautiful, 
though, perchance, more mystical world of 
life and thought,, and of correlated greatness, 
with a tread which — 

Stirring the blossoms in the meadow grass 
Flickers the unwithering stars. 

77 



The world and human life were, to Thomp- 
son, " crammed with Heaven and aflame with 
God." Thus, while Wordsworth, Tennyson, 
and Browning speak of their spiritual expe- 
riences in a more or less uncertain way, the 
spiritual experiences of Thompson are as real 
as the physical — the practice of asceticism 
deliberately propounded and accepted. In 
" The Mistress of Vision " he puts forth his 
" stark gospel of renunciation," and asks : 

Where is the land of Luthany, 

Where is the tract of Elenore F 

I am bound therefor. 

The answer is the heroic one of abnegation 
and self-denial contained in the lines which 
follow the passage quoted, abnegation and self- 
denial which he himself ardently practised in 
his maturer years — practised, we are assured, 
as well as preached. Doubtless this poem, 
" The Mistress of Vision," will rank eventually 
next to " The Hound of Heaven " for spiritual 
potentiality allied with genius of inspiration. 

Thompson's poetry is, as one writer puts it, 
" all compact of thought " — thought elabo- 
rated with exquisite subtlety, and an endless 
profusion and variety of metaphor and simile, 

78 



v8%Tncr OF rims 

drawn from a thousand sources, but most 
happily from his profound knowledge of the 
Old and New Testaments, and the philosophy, 
dogma, and liturgy of the Catholic Church. 
Indeed, to go back to the poet of " white fire," 
to whom Thompson has been most frequently 
compared : is not Crashaw himself often out- 
stripped, even in his own special glory of 
" mixing heaven and earth," by our own poet ? 

Mr. J. L. Garvin, on reading Thompson's 
first volume, wrote that in the rich and virile 
harmonies of his line — in strange and lovely 
vision — in fundamental meaning — ^Thompson 
is possibly the first of Victorian poets, and at 
least of none the inferior — a view which time 
has strengthened and the poet's later works 
confirmed. Whether the recent assertions of 
Mr. G. K. Chesterton and others, that the 
critics now class Thompson with Shelley and 
Keats, be true or not, there can be no question 
but that all serious critics are agreed in placing 
him among the imperishable names of English 
Song. Certainly no list of the four or five 
greatest poets of the nineteenth century would 
be conclusive without the name of Francis 
Thompson ! 

From the simple and lovely lines " To a 

79 



THO^M'PSO^ z.^^h(J) THE 

Snowflake," "Daisy," "The Poppy," "The 
Making of Viola " (in which he describes the 
making of a child in Heaven), and the rest of 
his childhood verses, to the regal " Ode to the 
Setting Sun " and the airy elegance of " Dream 
Tryst," and on again to " The Orient Ode " 
and " The Anthem of Earth," Thompson 
passes from the simplest to the grandest 
elements of being, and shows himself a 

Great freafpoitited Prodigal of Song 

This mad world soothing as he sweeps along. 

Even Tennyson, with his great quality of 
making words musical, is surpassed by the 
younger poet. If anyone should doubt this, 
let him study the poems mentioned, and end 
with " To my Godchild " and " A Corymbus 
for Autumn." Verses such as these, and the 
inspired " Mistress of Vision " (of which Sir 
A. T. Quiller-Couch declared that no such 
poem had been written since Coleridge 
attempted, and left off writing, " Kubla 
Khan "), will continue to soar among the peaks 
of literature and adorn 

The gold gateway of the stars^ 

as " The Hound of Heaven " will continue to 
be cherished — though its full grandeur may be 
80 



v8%T>icr OF Tims 

grasped only by the deeper-soulcd few — to the 
end of time. 

A glance through any of the volumes of 
Thompson's poems will at once show that 
many of his lines need careful study, besides 
the assistance of a dictionary and books of 
reference on many subjects — ancient and 
modern. But this may be said with certainty : 
if the precise hues of the poet's meaning cannot 
always be seen at once, the central idea is clear 
enough, and glory of colour is -present, though 
its splendours may be too great for immediate 
comprehension. Writing on this aspect of the 
poet's works, a writer in the Irish Rosary for 
September 1912 says : "There is no mist or 
haze attached to his imagery. They will catch 
away the mind's breath at the first flash, but 
when they have been read carefully, they will 
soon become clear-seen and clear-cut, even 
brilliant in their obscurity, obvious perhaps by 
their very unexpectedness. His most intricate 
harmonies are loaded with a rush of music that 
may perplex, but which works itself out in the 
end, perhaps upon the quaver of the last 
syllable : the feeling remains with the reader 
all the time that nobody else could quite have 
written it, and that Thompson himself could 

81 



not have written anything else, that his words 
and expressions have waited a thousand years 
for his coming to claim and set them to the 
highest use. He did not open his images like 
sky-lights to make clear a chance meaning here 
and there in his work, but he opened, as it 
were, a whole apse of windows to illuminate 
one central idea throned altarwise. Each of 
his poems is builded delicately, like a great 
window of stained glass, and every fragment of 
it is filled with the rich colour inherent to his 
words. At the first rush of thought the eyes 
are dazzled as by a sudden blaze from above, 
yet at a little distance every word falls har- 
monized and ordered into a network of metre, 
which grapples colour to colour and syllable to 
syllable as simply and convincingly as the 
beaded lead that controls the splendoured 
glories of some rose-window." 

In the qualities peculiarly his own — the 
combination of insensuous passion and spiritual 
fervour, courtly love and saintly reverence, 
ecclesiastical pageantry and liturgical splen- 
dour — in his mountain-top ecstasies and the 
remoter flights of his wonderful imagination — 
he stands absolutely apart from any other 
English singer ! It was Professor Dowden 
82 



vs%T>icr OF risMS 

who wrote of " Sister Songs " : " Every page is 
wealthy in beauties of detail, beauties of a kind 
which are at the command oj no living foet, other 
than Mr. 'Thompson.'^'' 

That our poet knew something at least of 
the greatness of his work may be gathered from 
the lines : 

/ hang ^mid men my needless head, 
And my fruit is dreams, as theirs is bread ; 
The goodly men and the sun-hazed sleeper 
'Time shall reap, but after the reaper 
The world shall glean of me — me the 
sleeper ! Poems. 

With 

The loud 

Shouts of the crowd 

he was not concerned. Rather would it have 
pleased him to know that his voice would 
become audible when the " high noises " of the 
throng had passed. In his review of the poetry 
of Mrs. Meynell, there occurs a passage which 
illustrates this, and might, in very truth, be 
applied to much of his own muse : 

" The footfalls of her muse waken not sounds, but 
silences. We lift a feather from the marsh aiid 

F 83 



say : ' This way went a heron.'' ... It 
is foetry, the spiritual voice of which will 
become audible when the ' high noises ' of to- 
day have followed the feet that made them." 

What other, of all the poetry of the nine- 
teenth century, has awakened such silences of 
thought and such soulful meditation as " The 
Hound of Heaven," " The Mistress of Vision," 
and " The Anthem of Earth " ? 

To come at length to another characteristic 
of Thompson's verse — reference must certainly 
be made to his frequent neologisms and his 
love of big words. To those who complain of 
the poet's own coinage, it need only be said 
that the use he makes of words non-existent in 
pre-Thompsonian English is, after all, the 
poet's justification. To quote again from the 
Irish Rosary : " Delight, not indignation, is 
the proper attitude of people who are made 
suddenly aware that fine gold has just been 
brought to light in their rock-garden." To 
those who complain of the length of his words, 
it may be said that though, when they are 
viewed separately, one wonders how many of 
the huge boulder-like word-masses ever got 
hoisted safely into their places, once in position, 

84 



vs%Dicr OF ri^Ms 

they so fit the great structures of which they 
form part that their ruggedncss is absorbed in 
the total effect. The exceptions are about as 
rare as angels' visits ! 

That the poet who, in his own words, 

Drew the bolt of Nature'' s secrecies, 

should abound in " Nature touches " is what 
might be expected. " Mist of tears," " vistaed 
hopes," " chasmed fears," " skyey blossoms," 
" vapourous shroudage," " dazv?iing answers," 
" sighful branches,^'' " tones of floating light,''"' 
" poet's calyxed heart," " windy trammel," 
and a hundred other examples might be given 
of the descriptions drawn from natural pheno- 
mena in Thompson's poetry. 

Another feature still of Thompson's verse is 
its astonishing variety : 

^ he freshness of May, and the sweetness of June, 
And the fire of July in its passionate noon — 

each finds a place in the gorgeous " pomp and 
prodigality " of his muse. Lines on Children, 
on Cricket, on the English Martyrs, on the 
Dead Cardinal of Westminster (Cardinal ]\ tan- 
ning) — verses of " utter chastity " on the 
benefactress v/hom he calls his " dear adminis- 

85 



mom'pso^ ^Av^ t:ks 

tress " (the inspirer of the group of poems 
" Love in Dian's Lap ") — chants of the Autumn 
and Nature — odes to the rising and sinking 
Sun — poetic representation of scientific truth — 
poems of sadness and poems of ecstasy — 
detached fragments of thought and philosophy 
— Alights into the realms of theology and 
mythology — images drawn from the Scriptures 
and the liturgy of the Church, — all are there, 
with many a word of " learned length and 
thundering sound " adorning, without loading, 
the sense he wishes to convey. Admirers of 
Shelley will come across many a passage of 
Shelleyan flavour : lovers of Shakespeare many 
a passage of Shakesperean touch. Take as an 
example of the latter (one only out of many in 
" Sister Songs ") : 

From cloud-zoned -pinnacles of the secret spirit 

Song Jails precipitant in dizzying streams ; 
And, like a mountian-hold when war-shouts stir it, 
The mind^s recessed fastness casts to light 
Its gleaming multitudes, that from every height 
Unfurl the flaming of a thousand dreams. 

In such a treasury it is difficult to pick and 
choose for samples of the poet's art, but the 
following passages from the pieces indicated 
86 



vs%T>icr OF ri^Ms 

may serve to give some idea of the poet's 
style : 

I. Tet^ even as the air is Tumorous of fray 

Before the first shafts of the suit's onslaught 
From gloom's black harness splinter, 
And Summer move on Winter 
With the trumpet of the March, and the pennon 
of the May ; 
As gesture outstrips thought ; 
So, haply, toyer with ethereal strings ! 
Are thy hlifid repetitions of high things 
The murmurous gnats whose aimless hoverings 

Reveal song^s summer in the air ; 
The outstretched hand, which cannot thought 
declare, 
Yet is thought'' s harbinger. 
These strains the way for thine own strains 

prepare ; 
We feel the music moist upon the breeze. 
And hope the congregating poesies. 

Sister Songs. 

II. Lo, in the sanctuaried East, 
Day, a dedicated priest 

In all his robes pontifical exprest, 

Lifteth slowly, lifteth sweetly. 

From out its Oriefit tabernacle drawn, 

87 



Ton orbed sacrament confest 
Which sprinkles benediction through the dawn; 
And when the grave processio?i''s ceased, 
The earth with due illustrious rite 
Blessed, — ere the frail fingers featly 
Of twilight, violet-cassocked acolyte, 
His sacerdotal stoles unvest — 
Sets, for high close of the mysterious feast, 
The sun in august exposition meetly 
Within the fiaming monstrance of the West. 

Orient Ode. 

^ ^■. ^ JJ. 4t; 

Of Shelley and Keats — if reference must be 
made — it will suffice to say that, singularly 
tuneful and marvels of pure melody as their 
own verses are, it is a relief at times to pass from 
their earthly sweetness to the loftier heights 
and sublimer beauties of Francis Thompson — 
the " toyer with ethereal strings " — the poet 
" God-smitten." Contrast the lines from 
Shelley's " Hymn to Intellectual Beauty " (the 
poem which most of all contains his own 
special " Gospel ") : 

Thy light alone — like mist o^er mountains driven, 
Or music by the night wind sent, 
Thro'' strings of some still instrument. 
Or moonlight 07i a midnight stream. 



vs%Dicr OF rims 

Gives grace and truth to lifers unquiet dream. 
Love, Hofe, and Self-esteem, like clouds defart 
And come, for some u?icertai?i moments lent. 
Alan were immortal, and omnipotent. 
Didst thou, unknown and awful as thou art. 
Keep with thy glorious train firm state within his 

heart. 

* * * * * 

I vowed that I would dedicate my powers 

To thee and thine — have I not kept the vow P 
***** 

The day becomes more solemn and serene 
When noon is past — there is a harmoiiy 
In autumn, and a lustre in its sky. 

Which thro'' the summer is not heard or seen. 

As if it could not he, as if it had not been I 
Thus let thy power, which like the truth 
Of nature on my passive youth 

Descended, to my onward life supply 

Its calm — to one who worships thee, 
And every form containing thee, 
Whom, Spirit fair, thy spells did bind 

To fear himself, and love all human kind. 

Or the lines from Keats — 

So let me be thy choir, and make a moan 

Upon the midnight hours ; 
Thy voice, thy lute, thy pipe, thy incense sweet 

89 



From swinged, censer teeming : 

Thy shrine, thy grove, thy oracle, thy heat 

Of f ale-mouthed frophet dreaming. 

Tes, I will be thy priest, and build a fane 

In some untrodden region of my mind. 

Where branched thoughts, new grown with 

pleasant pain, 
Instead of pines shall murmur in the wind — 

and the rest of Keats's " Ode to Psyche " (an 
ode in which he took special pains to express 
his distinctive thought), with the soul-feeding 
beauties of Thompson's " Hound of Heaven," 
or the latter's poem " To Any Saint," the 
most marvellous compendium of Christian 
mysticism that has ever been penned in poetic 
lines. 

If the message of Shelley was — as it seems to 
have been — that love and beauty shall endure 
to unite all things ; and the message of Keats 
to restore the spirit of the Greeks and " Art for 
Art's sake," that of Francis Thompson is, at 
any rate, the more exalted. For in what does 
it differ, save in the manner of delivery, from 
that cry of the great Augustine, which has 
rung down the ages in ever-increasing 
volume ? 
90 



V6%T>ICr OF ri^MS 

'Thou hast made us for Thyself^ and our hearts 
are restless u?!til they find their rest in Thee. 

This sentence of the Aristotle of Christianity 
echoes through the poetry of Francis Thompson 
— and if literary fame, to be immortal, must be 
linked with an undying message, then, surely, 
to the poet of " terrible depths and triumphant 
heights " is Immortality assured. 



91 



^MJDTSS 03i^S0M6 OF 
F%A3iCIS THOMTSOJ^S 
TO SMS 



THS HO U3^ OF 

H6^V6\_ 

Fear wist not to evade, as Love zvist to pursue. 

Tjie Hound of Heaven 

FRANCIS THOMPSON leapt into fame 
among those able to discern true 
poetic genius by the chance discovery 
of the verse-set gems contained in a short poem 
which he composed when on the verge of 
destitution and despair. Since the day when 
this singer of golden song wrote on a soiled 
scrap of paper, picked up by him in a London 
street, the lines which first brought about his 
recognition, his works have been read and 
re-read with increasing appreciation, while the 
greatest critics have vied with one another in 
proclaiming his praise. But if there is one 
work more than the rest of the vagrant Prodigal 
of Song (albeit not the one first alluded to) 
which has fired the heart and glistened the eye, 
it is his religious ode entitled " The Hound of 
Heaven." This wonderful lyric came as an 
inspiration amid the doubt, and darkness, and 
the imperfect faith of other Victorian poets. 
Throughout its lines God is no vague abstrac- 
tion, but a Presence most intimate — loving, 

95 



7 HE HOV^D CF E6(t/jV6^ 

and eagerly pursuing the soul that would find 
satisfaction elsewhere than in Him. It is, of all 
foems ferhaps, the poem of Divine insistency. 

Whether the original idea, which developed 
in course of time into " The Hound of Heaven," 
was first planted in the author's mind by the 
thought of the pursuing love in Silvio Pellico's 
" Dio Amore," or, as seems more likely, was 
suggested by one of the poems of the Spanish 
mystic known as St. John of the Cross (of whom 
Thompson was a close student and admirer), 
or whether it arose solely out of the circum- 
stances of the poet's own life and the innate 
sense, which runs through so many of his verses, 
of the nearness of Heaven and the proximity 
of God — is a matter of surmise. Certain it 
is that no mystical words of such profound 
power and such soul-stirring sweetness have 
been written in modern times. The title, as 
apart from the subject-matter, may have been 
borrowed from Celtic mythology, in which 
the title " Hound " (as where Cuchulain, the 
hero of Irish romance, is called " the Hound 
of Ulster ") is a term of honour — or been 
suggested, as seems probable enough, by the 
" Heaven's winged hound " of the opening act 
of Shelley's " Prometheus Unbound." 

96 



THE HOU^rO OF HS^VS^ 

Though it may be said that in a certain sense 
Thompson viewed the world as but the footstool 
of the Highest, he was yet supremely conscious 
of the beauty displayed on every side, from the 
shadows of Divine beauty cast by the Designer 
Infinite upon the curtains of sky and cloud, 
down to the lowliest flower of earth. The ex- 
quisite glimpses of the things of Nature — those 
shapers of his own moods, which he incidentally 
presents in the course of the poem as the tremen- 
dous Lover (God, symbolized as the Hound) 
pursues His tireless quest — strike at once the 
imagination, as surely as the impressive symbol- 
ism employed penetrates and illumines the soul. 
The deliberate speed, the majestic sweep of the 
lines, produce an impression of unrushing splen- 
dour but seldom equalled, even in the master- 
pieces of literature, outside the Hebrewprophets. 
Here and there one is reminded, by the 
spirituality of thought and phrase, of a similar 
vein in Crashaw — or by the fine frenzy of a line 
to something akin in Blake or Rossetti. To the 
present writer the lines — 
/ tempted all His servitors, hut to find 
My own betrayal in their C07ista?icy^ 
In faith to Him their fickleness to me, 
Their traitorous true?iess, and their loyal deceit — 

97 



THE HOU^D OF HS^VS^ 

invariably recall the well-known oxymoron in 
Tennyson's " Elaine " — 

His honour rooted in dishonour stood, 

And faith, unfaithful, kept him falsely true. 

The idea of the " arches of the years " in the 
opening section — 

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days ; 
I fled Him, down the arches of the years ; — 

would undoubtedly be suggested by the bridge 
of life in the lovely " Vision of Mirzah " 
contributed by Addison to the Spectator under 
date September i, 171 1. This bridge (seen by 
Mirzah after he had listened to the tunes of 
the shepherd-clad genius which reminded him 
of those heavenly airs played to the departed 
souls of good men, upon their first arrival in 
Paradise, to wear out the impressions of their 
last agonies) consisted of " three score and ten 
entire arches, with several broken arches, which, 
added to those that were entire, made up the 
number about an hundred." Such a piece of 
superfine prose would be certain to make a deep 
impression on Thompson's susceptible mind. 

In poetry it is more or less essential that 
besides the outer gems that flash on all alike, 

98 



rUS H0U.9CD OF H6^^^V8.9C 

there should be some that lie below the surface, 
and need some mental digging to unearth. In 
" The Hound of Heaven " these hidden gems 
abound, but they can hardly be said to be too 
deeply buried for the earnest seeker, when 
once the prevailing idea and the nobility of 
the poet's thought are grasped. The sym- 
bolism employed, though often most daring, is 
free from the disfiguring " eccentricity " of 
many mystical poets : the thought and diction 
befit the exalted subject of the verse, and 
transcend all conventions. 

The poem proceeds by way of striking 
similes, which hold the reader spellbound in 
an atmosphere of spiritual elevation : fresh 
and more towering peaks of mental conception 
come into view as the grandeur of the theme 
develops ; the end is in the Valley of Calm, 
where the surrender of the tired wanderer 
follows as a natural climax, in lines of the most 
touching and exquisite simplicity. The spell 
of " The Hound of Heaven " is such that 
hundreds of its readers date their drawing to 
the Feet of that " tremendous Lover " of 
Whom the poet sings, to the day when the 
poem's appealing music first broke upon their 
'" encircling gloom." 

G 99 



rne hou^d of hs^vs^ 

The chief interest lies, perhaps, in the 
genuine humanity which pervades the poem 
throughout, and in the wonderful mental 
pictures often conjured up, sometimes by a 
single line. In the few words — 

Adozvn Titanic blooins of chasmed fears ; 
as again in the lines — 

/ swung the earth a trinket at my wrist ; 
and — 

Tet ever and anon a trumpet sounds 
From the hid battlements of eternity ; — 

a host of conceptions may arise in the mind 
without exhausting the full meaning of the 
poet's words. Great alike in theme and 
execution, and in the completeness of its 
message, it is safe to say that as a religious 
poem " The Hound of Heaven " has no 
superior. It stands unique, for all the world 
and for all time ! 

Amid all the artistic trope and perfect poetic 
imagery, certain passages will appear more 
noteworthy to some than to others, but it will 
surely be of special interest to most to note 
that it is in the little children's eyes that the 
soul approaches nearest the object of its quest, 

100 



THS H0U,9CD OF H8^1V8.?C 

ere it sinks beneath the Hand outstretched 
caressingly. 

It is a curious fact, not devoid of significance, 
that the poem was constructed at the time 
that Thompson was composing melodies of a 
very different order — the lines varied, sweet, 
and gay, which make up his volume of " Sister 
Songs," published in 1895. As "The Hound 
of Heaven " appeared in Thompson's first 
volume of poems, issued in 1893, it would seem 
that the actual year when the " poem for all 
time " was written may have been either 1892 
or 1893. 

Strange and startling fancies in words ; 
adjectives that illumine like " furnaces in the 
night " ; deep sounds and echoes — the sounds 
of restless humanity in search of the world's 
witchery, the echoes of the message of the 
Psalmist of old, — and underlying all, the 
pleading of the Father for His prodigal son : — 
such, in short, is " The Hound of Heaven." 



lOI 



0T>6 ro THS 

Thou dost thy dying so triutnfhally : 

I see the crimson blaring of thy shawms ! 

Ode to the Setting Sun 

WHATEVER may have been the 
general method of Francis Thomp- 
son in settling the final wording of 
his poems, he seems to have been at special 
pains in giving its ultimate form to his " Ode 
to the Setting Sun." Words, lines, and whole 
passages have been reshaped since the first 
appearance of the poem in Merry Englarid* 
A noticeable change lies in the substitution of 
simpler language, an example of which may be 
seen in the passage altered from — 
Thou swa'f St thy sce-ptred beam 
0''er all earth'' s broad, loins teem^ 
^he sweats thee through her 'pores to verdurous 

spilth ; 
Thou art light in her light, 
Thou art might in her might, 
Fruitjulness in her fruit, a?td foizon in her 
tilth— 
in the Ode as it originally appeared, to 

* Merry England, September 1889. 

103 



0D£ ro me ssrrL'Nig sus^ 

Thou sway' St thy sceptred beam 

O^er all delight and dream., 

Beauty is beautiful but in thy glance ; 

Arid like a jocimd maid 

In garland-flowers arrayed. 

Before thy ark earth keeps her sacred dance — 

as the lines occur later in the volume of " New 

Poems." 

As the Ode now stands, free from some of 
the more startling archaisms and coinage of 
words, it must ever rank as a great spell-binding 
poem, a pageant of scintillating colour and 
sound. The marvels and undreamt-of treasures 
of the wonder-working Sun are drawn out at 
length, and heaped up, through many a poetic 
line, for the beholder's gaze. The regal 
splendours befitting the subject, the ornateness 
and dignity of the poet's thought, the symbolic 
references and sacramental vision — conduct the 
reader along the passage between matter and 
soul, and show him some of the many-splen- 
doured things conceivable only by the mind of 
the Seer. Something of the majestic strains of 
Handel's " Largo " ; of the soul-filling sweet- 
ness of Gounod's " Messe Solennelle " ; of the 
lights and raptures of a De Beriot's " Ninth 
Concerto " ; something, too, of the indefinable 
104 



0T>6 ro rns s erring su.9c 

witchery of certain of Chopin's Nocturnes — 
surge into the ears as the recital continues. 
Amid such dehghts as these is the reader 
carried from the " world too much with us " to 
realms of more spacious beauty. 

The Ode is divided into three parts. In the 
Prelude, the setting Sun — " a bubble of fire " — 
drops slowly, as the poignant music of the 
violin and harp are borne into the soul. In the 
Ode proper, the note of sadness — the sunset 
mood — is continued ; the mystical twins of 
Time — Death and Birth — come into the poet's 
mind, " and of these two the fairer thing is 
Death." As in some great musical masterpiece, 
the opening bars — low, sad, and weird — prepare 
the way for the cymbals' clang and the full 
orchestral effects, so here : nor is it long before 
the " music blasts make deaf the sky." In 
bewilderingly beautiful language the poet pro- 
ceeds to depict the splendours of the sun's 
triumphal dying, and to consider the sway of 
its sceptred beam from the time of its birth — 
the time when it burst from the great void's 
husk and leaped " on the throat o' the dusk." 
The deluge, " when the ancient heavens did in 
rains depart " ; the lion " maned in tawny 
majesty," the tiger " silver-barred," and the 

105 



0T>s ro rns ssTri.v^cg su^ 

stealthy stepping pard ; the entombed trees 
(now the light-bearers of the earth) ; the rose 
" cupped to the marge with beauty," the 
" draped " tulip, the " snowed " lily, the earth 
itself suckled at the breast of the sun, and 
" scarfed " with the morning light, — these, and 
many a gorgeous miracle of the sun's working, 
are examined in turn, and over each the sway 
of the " spectred beam " is shown. The wind 
and the wailing voices that should meet from 
hill, stream, and grove to chant a dirge at the 
red glare of the Sun's fall — the Naiad, Dryad, 
and Nereid : 

The Nymph wan- glimmering by her wan founfs 
verge — 

all are conjured up as in their wonted haunts. 

And then the scene changes : 

A space, and they fleet from me. Must ye fade — 

O old, essential candours, ye who made 

The earth a lim?ig and a radiant thifig — 
And leave her corpse in our strained, cheated 
arms P 

The poet sees in their departure a resem- 
blance to his own " vanishing — nay, vanished 
day," and his dark mood is only changed by the 
deferred thought of Eternity, whereat " a 
1 06 



ODS TO THS SSTTl^q SU^ 

rifting light burns through the leaden brood- 
ings " of his mind. 

O blessed Sun, thy state 

Uf risen or derogate 

Dafts me no more with doubt ; I seek and find. 

In the opening lines of another of his great 
majestical poems, the " Orient Ode," the poet 
sees in the Sunrise a symbol of the Church's 
Benediction Service. Now, in the Setting Sun, 
he sees a radiant image of the King-maker of 
Creation, a type indeed of Calvary — 

Thou art of Him a type memorial, 
Like Him thou hang'st in dreadful pomp of blood 
Upon thy western rood — 

and his sadness lifts at the thought, which 
naturallv follows, of the Resurrection. 

The vein of triumph thenceforth predomi- 
nates ; for it is the falling acorn buds the tree, 
and as — 

There is nothing lives but something dies — 
so, too — 

There is nothing dies but something lives — 

and though birth and death are inseparable on 
earth 
They are twain yet one, and Death is Birth. 

107 



OT>s ro rus serrifNig su.9c 

In the after-strain (the concluding part of 
the Ode) the note of triumph rings again : a 
message from the tender Queen of Heaven 
leaves the poet " light of cheer," and in the end 
he gives thanks for his very griefs : 

The restless zvi?idzvard stirrings of whose feather 
Prove them the brood of immortality. 

The " Ode to the Setting Sun " (written at 
Storrington in 1889) possesses a unique interest, 
inasmuch as it was the first poem of length that 
Thompson wrote after his rescue from the life 
of poverty in London, and afforded the first 
all-convincing revelation of the poet's genius. 
It is one of his " great " poems, full of that 
princely opulence of imagination which distin- 
guished "New Poems," though short, perhaps, 
of the matured mysticism of " Orient Ode " or 
the master-craftsmanship of " An Anthem of 
Earth " — that marvel of poetic creation — in the 
same volume. 

One of the many functions of poetry is to 
penetrate beyond the reach of science, and 
reveal, in reverential way, certain hidden truths 
of nature which, without the imagination of 
the poet to cross the abysses of dividing space, 
might remain but irritating and unpictured 
108 



OT>S TO THS S6Tri.9(jg SU,'9^ 

mysteries. Canon Sheehan expresses this in 
The Intellectuals : " She (Nature) retreats, as 
we advance, and gathers up her skirts, lest the 
very swish of them should reveal her hiding- 
places. There is one, and one only, to whom 
she reveals herself, and lifts up her veil : and 
that is her poet." 

Such a poet, letting in a flood of many- 
coloured light upon the world — drawing the 
veil from the beauty of the Creator's handi- 
work — and " purging from our inward sight the 
film of familiarity which obscures from us the 
wonder of our being " (as in his " Ode to 
the Setting Sun ") is Francis Thompson ! 



109 



THOMTSO^NZS D^IST 

Her beauty smoothed earth'' s furrowed jace ! 

Daisy 

FRANCIS THOMPSON'S poem 
" Daisy " has something more suggestive 
of Wordsworth about it than the mere 
resemblance of sweet simpHcity to " Lucy " 
and " We are Seven." In a charming httle 
poem written of his beloved sister Dorothy, 
under the pseudonym of Emmeline, Words- 
worth refers to her as " a little Prattler among 
men," and goes on to say that she gave him 
love, and thought, and joy : 

She gave me eyes, she gave me ears, 
And humble cares, and delicate Jears ; 
A heart, a fountain oj sweet tears ; 
And love, and thought, and joy. 

Are not all these, in the case of the little 
Prattler — his sister of an hour — whom Thomp- 
son met at Storrington, contained, in childish 
measure, in her token-gift ? 

A look, a word of her winsome mouth, 
And a wild ras-pberry. 

Was it quite unconsciously of the " cares " and 
" fears " and " fountain of sweet tears " of 

III 



Wordsworth, and of Wordsworth's own 
" Daisy " *— 

With little here to do or see 

Of things that in the great world he, 

Sweet Daisy ! oft I talk to thee — 

(as unconsciously as if they had been non- 
existent) — that Thompson tells of " the wise, 
idle, childish things " he talked to his Daisy, 
and the sweetness (albeit the sweetness in the 
sad) she brought to him ? We know at all 
events that Thompson was thoroughly ac- 
quainted with the poetry of Wordsworth (with 
what great poetry was he not ?) — and often 
spoke of it. We know, too, that the younger 
poet, out of the vast storehouse of his memory, 
frequently made use of some thought or 
suggestion, arising, unconsciously it might be, 
from the works — a phrase or single word at 
times — of others, whether prose or verse. To 
take an instance (the first that comes to mind) 
of each : must not the lines from " Sister 
Songs " — 

And Summer move on Winter 
With the trum-pet of the March, and the pennon 
of the May — 

* In the first of the four Wordsworthian "Daisy" poems. 
112 



have had their forerunner in the passage from 
De Quincey (whose " Confessions," by the way, 
Thompson knew almost by heart) — 

Midsummer like an army with banners, was 
movifig through the heavens — 

as surely as the passage (again from " Sister 
Songs ")— 

In fairing time, we know, the bird 
Kindles to its deepest splendour — 

have had its conception in the Tennysonian — 

/// the Spring a livelier iris changes on the 
burnish'' d dove . . . ? 

Much will be written in years to come of 
those qualities of Thompson which bear 
affinity to the genius of Wordsworth — or 
rather of those dissimilarities in which is to be 
found each poet's peculiar strength : the calm 
austerity of the one, the " passionless " passion 
of the other ; Wordsworth's pensive Daffodil 
culled so immediately as to have the dew still 
fresh upon it — Thompson's correlated flower 
so linked to things unseen as to trouble by its 
plucking some far-off star. But all that need 
be said here is that if Thompson had written 
no other poem than his gorgeously coloured 

113 



"Poppy," "A Fallen Yew" (destined, like 
Wordsworth's " Yew Trees," to " last with 
stateliest rhyme "), and " Daisy " (the simplest 
perhaps of all his poems), his title to a poet of 
Nature would be secure. 

'7^ "7? W ^ w 

The name of the child of the poem — the 
sweetest flower on Sussex hills that day — is 
unknown. Efforts have been made to trace 
her, but without success. Beautiful she must 
have been. As in " The Hound of Heaven," 
it was within the little children's eyes that the 
poet came nearest to that after which he sought, 
so doubtless it was in the loveliness of her 
young eyes (he refers to her " sweet eyes," and 
again to her " lovely eyes ") that the fascina- 
tion of the Daisy-Flower of Storrington 
lay. A trifle it may be, but a trifle indicative 
of the poet's mind, is the fact that once, at 
Pantasaph, he singled out from Coventry 
Patmore the passage 

What is this maiden fair, 

The laughing 0/ whose eye 

Is in man's heart renewed virgi^iity — 

for special comment and admiration. 

The poem is one of mingled joy and sorrow. 
114 



It concludes with a verse, the last lines of 

which — 

For we are born in others 'pain 

And perish in our own — 

have often been quoted. Many will wish that 
the concluding verse had not been written. 
The poem is complete without it : the poignant 
grief seems to go beyond the scope of the 
theme, and to add sadness (if one may so 
venture to put it) for sadness' sake. 

It seems to the present writer that there are 
two pictures of Francis Thompson which 
might, conceivably, be painted — and which, 
executed by an artist worthy of the task, would 
serve to give a truer idea of the poet — man and 
soul — than any description in words. The 
first, mystical of necessity in conception, would 
need to show him — with thought-consumed 
body and saintly face — the marks of his scars 
still fresh upon him — leaning with reverent 
boldness in the manner of which he himself 
furnishes a picture in " Any Saint " : 

And holder now and holder 
I lean upon that Shoulder, 

So dear 

He is, and near : 

n 115 



THO.M'PSO^S 'D<iAISr 

And with His aureole 
The tresses of my soul 

Are blent 

In wished content. 

The other (the simpler the better) would 
depict him talking to the unknown child at 
Storrington, the beautiful child of whom, as 
she stood 

Breast deep mid flower and spine, 

he sings, unforgettably, in " Daisy." 



ii6 



O World Invisible, we view thee. 

In no Strange Land 

WHEN Francis Thompson died, early 
in the winter of 1907, he left 
among his papers a short unfinished 
poem bearing the double title : 

In no Strange Land 



The Kingdom of God is within you 



which is noteworthy as the last and at the same 
time one of the most characteristic of his 
works. For in these triumphing stanzas there 
is held in retrospect — as Mr. Meynell puts it — 
the days and nights of human dereliction 
which the poet spent besides London's river, 
and in the shadow — but all radiance to him — 
of Charing Cross. Obviously differing from 
his polished masterpiece, " The Hound of 
Heaven," the shorter poem bears yet a resem- 
blance in that it treats of the world to be 
discerned by the eyesight that is spiritual, and 
exhibits a conception of equal daring. Thus 
the splendid audacity which, in the one, 
symbolizes God as the pursuing Hound, depicts, 
in the other, Jacob's ladder pitched betwixt 

117 



THO^M'PSO^S LzASr "POSm 

Heaven and Charing Cross,* and Christ walking 
on the water 7iot of Gennesareth but Thames I 

Though Thompson has been styled the 
" mighty mystic," he has many pieces of sweet 
simplicity. His lines on a " Snowflake," and his 
verses entitled " July Fugitive," " A Dead 
Astronomer," " After her going " are, among 
others, such as a child can understand ; and in 
the last gift of his muse he has left an epitome 
of his life's verse, expressed in a clear and 
striking form, the beauty and significance of 
which few can miss. 

It is when dealing with his favourite subject 
of the intimacy of God that the poet, whose 
heart was warmed by the Divine Presence as 
he sold matches in the street, displays his 
greatest charm. Here, compressed in the space 
of twenty- four lines, is to be found the very 
inmost of his thought, combined with a 
lustrous simplicity befitting the vehicle of his 
final message. Many who find themselves 
breathless in the elevation of " The Hound of 
Heaven " will, in the later lines, be able to 
follow the mind of the poet with ease, and 

* An interesting similarity of thought is suggested by the 
"Jacob's ladder" line of Thompson's poem and verse ii 
of Tennyson's " Early Spring." 

ii8 



THo^i'Pso^s L^jtsr TO em 

grasp the import of his teaching to the 
full. 

It has been said of another of our English 
poets (Chatterton) that he was " Poetry's 
Martyr." The description applies to Thomp- 
son also, but in a far nobler sense. The hopes 
of his youth blighted — crushed, as it seemed, 
on every side — it was the equally bitter lot of 
Francis Thompson to learn by experience that 
" turning love's bread is bought at hunger's 
price," and to find himself (in words of his own 
telling) — 

Like one who sweats hejore a despofs gate, 
Summoned by some presaging scroll ojjate, 
And knows not whether kiss or dagger wait ; 
And all so sickened is his countenance, 
T^hat courtiers buzz, '"'' Lo, doomed ! " and look at 
him askance.* 

Yet, racked as he was, he stood true to his 
visions with enduring patience, and with a 
courage that has no counterpart on the field 
of battle. His was the martyrdom of living : 
to deliver his message, he prolonged his life, so 
full of physical pain, to the utmost. That he 
lived so long was due to his unconquerable 
mind, his indomitable will to live — to live and 
* "Sister Songs." 

119 



sanctify the bodily suffering of his later 
years. 

Through all the outer darkness of his ' ' uncom- 
panioned " days, the poet of the light within 
remained the same rapt celebrant of the soul, 
feasting his gaze on the world invisible, and 
proclaiming the high things that lie beyond 
the lowly. The very bitterness of his trials 
only strengthened his assurance in the reality 
of the hidden things of which he testifies. 
What wonder, then, that his last testimony 
should be of such special significance and 
potentiality ? 

The angels keef their ancient places ; — 
Turn but a stone, and start a wing ! 
''Tis ye, 'tis your estranged faces, 
That miss the many-sple?tdoured thing. 

***** 

Tea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter, 
Cry, — clinging Heaven by the hems ; 
And lo, Christ walking on the water. 
Not of Gennesareth, but Thames ! 

Surely the angels must have clapped their 
hands with delight as the poem proceeded. 

What " The Hound of Heaven " is among 
the poet's longer pieces, his poem of the Vision 

120 



THOmTSO^S L<tASr TOSm 

of Thames — unpolished and unfinished though 
it be — is among the shorter. Both are adorned 
by tears and sunshine, and both are the 
channels of his profoundest message — 

Heaven in Earth, and God in Man ! * 

* This lin> occurs in Crashaw's " H/mn of th • Nativity .' ' 



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